As the end of the trial nears, a chorus of community members, business leaders, Oakland police and neighboring law enforcement jurisdictions are calling for peace following a verdict in the case of former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle.
Mehserle, 28, is charged with murder for fatally shooting Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Hayward man, at the Fruitvale station shortly after 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day, 2009.
Mehserle’s lawyer has admitted his client shot Grant but says he did so accidentally when he meant to stun Grant with his Taser.
The trial is currently underway in Los Angeles, and the verdict could come as early as next week. Jury deliberations are scheduled to begin Friday.
A spokesman for Grant’s family said today that no matter what the verdict, they hope supporters will react loudly but not violently.
“We do not want his name to be tarnished by outbursts of violence that destroy businesses and the community of the people of Oakland,” said Cephus Johnson, Grant’s uncle.
Johnson said the family is appreciative of the nonviolent support from community groups, but they also recognize there are extremist individuals who feel strongly about racial tensions between police and community members and may react in a more hostile manner.
“We have no power over those individuals, but we will not stand with those individuals,” he said, adding that the family believes justice can be served through nonviolent means.
The trial was moved out of the county last October by an Alameda Superior Court judge, who noted that because Mehserle is white and Grant was black, the shooting is viewed by many as a case about race relations between police and members of the community.
After Grant’s shooting, violent protests erupted in downtown Oakland, and approximately 40 businesses were vandalized, costing an estimated several hundred thousand dollars in damage, according to the Bay Area Council, a group representing regional businesses.
Rev. ElTyna McCree, the owner of Underground Treasurers on 17th Street between Franklin and Harrison streets, said that four businesses on 17th Street closed in the months after the 2009 protests because of the damage they sustained.
The Black Elected Officials and Clergy of the East Bay released an open letter to the community today calling for peace on the day of the verdict.
“We are asking that you work with us to shut down anyone who would engage in destructive behavior in our community,” they wrote in the letter.
The Black Elected Officials and Clergy also said they are prepared to take the case to state and federal agencies “if an unjust verdict is rendered.”
Oakland city officials, however, have taken a number of steps in case violence does break out.
Recently, hundreds of Bay Area law enforcement agencies joined the Oakland police for a crowd control and arrest training exercise, and police have been meeting with local businesses to assure them the necessary steps will be taken to prevent rioting, vandalism and violence.
To prevent a repeat of the violent protests following the shooting, the Bay Area Council is asking police departments in the region’s nine biggest cities to call for the activation of “Law Enforcement Mutual Aid” for the Oakland Police Department.
“That way we can be preemptive in our actions and not reactive,” Bay Area Council spokesman Joe Arellano said.
Currently, Oakland police, Alameda County sheriff’s deputies, the California Highway Patrol and BART police are the main agencies on alert, Arellano said. They can request mutual aid from all Bay Area counties if more police are needed.
“We’ve been making sure our communications mechanisms are in place,” Oakland police Officer Holly Joshi said. “We’ve been giving tours of businesses and the city so (outside agencies) know where they’re going in the event that we do need to call in outside aid.”
Residents planning to protest said they’re concerned about police brutality.
The Oakland General Assembly for Justice for Oscar Grant is planning a rally at 6 p.m. at the corner of 14th Street and Broadway in Oakland on the day of the verdict.
A spokesman for the group said the General Assembly is much more concerned about police brutality than violent agitators.
“Officials claim to support free speech, while video of heavily armed officers–marching in military formation, swinging batons on peaceful mock protesters, and preparing pepper spray, tear gas, and tanks–sends the opposite message: that protesters will be brutalized, for the ‘crime’ of protesting police brutality,” according to the statement.
But as the conclusion of the trial draws closer, indications of potentially violent reactions to the verdict have already begun showing up on the streets of Oakland.
Last week, spray-painted messages that read “Mehserle must die too” and “Oscar’s Revenge: Mehserle’s Kid” began showing up around Lake Merritt and downtown Oakland.
Today, D’andre Teeter of Revolution Books in Berkeley held a large banner at the intersection of 14th Street and Broadway in downtown Oakland that said, “Jail the Killer Cops Who Murdered Oscar Grant.”
He described the January 2009 protests that followed Grant’s killing as a rebellion and called them “a tremendously powerful thing.”
“The people of the world have a right 2 Rebel,” the bottom of his banner read.
Teeter, who was accompanied by another man, was asking passersby
to sign the banner, which contained a large number of signatures.
He said he participated in a rally outside Oakland City Hall on Oct. 22 that called for ending police brutality and protested incidents in which people have been killed by police officers.
“Anything short of a first-degree murder verdict for Johannes Mehserle is unacceptable,” he said. “If they let him off the hook, none of us are safe.”
Today, a judge took a first-degree murder verdict off the table.
Teeter said he’s upset that Oakland city leaders seem to be
telling people who don’t agree with the verdict in Mehserle’s case to
“swallow their bitter anger, don’t express their outrage and stay at home.”
Teeter called 14th Street and Broadway, which is near Oakland City
Hall, “The people’s corner.”
“We will hold this corner,” he said.