Last Friday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson set bail at $3 million for Johannes Mehserle, the former BART officer who has been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant III.

Given the high bail amount, Mehserle probably will remain behind bars while his case works its way through the court system. Even if his parents manage to raise bail, I agree with the judge: It's unlikely Mehserle would skip town and leave them in the lurch.

Yet that's not good enough for the idiots who think justice for Grant means mobs running through downtown Oakland vandalizing businesses, trashing police cars and jumping up and down on AC Transit buses.

After the bail hearing, riot police faced off with demonstrators who had congregated outside the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse. They arrested eight people, thankfully averting the kind of mayhem that occurred Jan. 7 and 14 in reaction to the New Year's Day shooting at the Fruitvale BART station.

As I have written before, we must keep the spotlight on Grant's tragic, senseless killing to make sure authorities prosecute the case to the fullest extent of the law.

Yet we must also realize that the same Constitution that gives us the right to protest also gives Mehserle, who is innocent until proved guilty, the right to a fair trial.

That includes the right to bail, unless it can be established that Mehserle is a flight risk.

Immediately after the hearing, Mayor Ron Dellums issued a statement that struck the right chord. He said Mehserle had a right to bail and urged everyone to stay peaceful.

Yet hours later, the mayor flip-flopped. "I believe granting bail in any amount for Johannes Mehserle jeopardizes the public safety of our community," Dellums said. "Due process of law must balance the rights of an individual with the rights of the community."

So what is the mayor suggesting? That we should all be held hostage by a bunch of knuckleheads threatening to tear the city upside down if they don't get what they want? That because of our fear of what they might do, we should deny Mehserle his constitutional right?

Want to know the sad irony? The protesters, many of whom are self-described "anarchists," who aren't even from Oakland, or wannabe Black Panthers, are playing right into the hands of the defense.

That's right. You are giving Mehserle's attorney, Michael Rains, a hell of a case for requesting that Mehserle's trial be moved out of Oakland.

How can you possibly have a free and fair trial when people are swinging from lamp posts outside the courthouse, ranting about killer cops and threatening to take matters into their own hands if Mehserle is not convicted of murder?

What sane potential juror wouldn't be terrified at the mere prospect of having to walk past that every day?

Heck, if I were summoned, I'd be tempted to fake crazy to get out of serving on that jury.

I will say this again and again and again.

What happened in the wee hours of New Year's Day on that Fruitvale platform was a tragedy for all involved.

A young, unarmed man, a father, was shot in the back while he lay facedown on a train platform, surrounded by police officers. We must get to the bottom of what happened and hopefully take what we learn to prevent something like this from happening again.

Far too many people have been far too quick to assume that they know what happened based on some blurry video images shot on cell phones by train passengers.

The fact is, they — we — don't.

Those images, we are told, capture the finale. Yet they tell us nothing of what occurred before.

According to the motion for bail filed by Mehserle's lawyer, witnesses have told authorities that Grant was struggling while Mehserle was apparently trying to handcuff him. Several said they heard Mehserle say he was going to "tase" Grant. Then, witnesses say, Mehserle pulled his service revolver and shot Grant.

Seven bystanders said Mehserle looked shocked after the shooting, that he put his hands over his head in disbelief.

That kind of witness testimony, I suspect, will make it difficult for District Attorney Tom Orloff to make a murder charge stick.

Manslaughter, yes. You can't just shoot someone in the back and then say, "Oops, I didn't mean it."

But murder?

My fear for Oakland? What happens if a verdict other than murder is announced?

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for Bay Area News Group-East Bay. Her column runs Wednesdays in Metro and Sundays in Opinion. Reach her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com.