San Francisco police and community leaders said today they hope residents will reject violence as a response to the upcoming verdict in the trial of former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle.
Mehserle, 28, is on trial for murder for the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III while trying to arrest him at the Fruitvale station early on New Year’s Day 2009.
Mehserle has claimed he meant to fire his Taser stun gun when he shot Grant, who was unarmed.
“We are here today because we want to convey a message of peace and a message of dialogue,” police Chief George Gascon said at a news conference at police headquarters.
He called it “a wonderful opportunity” to continue recent collaborations between police, clergy and other community leaders.
The partnership is sponsoring three days of “Be Heard, Teach Peace!” outreach events focused on youth this week at local community centers in the Western Addition, Bayview and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods.
Grant’s shooting provoked anger in the African American community, and demonstrations in Oakland were marred by violence. Dozens of businesses were vandalized.
Mehserle is white, and Grant was black.
Gascon was joined today by Police Commission President Joe Marshall and several clergymen, including the Rev. Amos Brown of San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church.
“We definitely don’t want a reoccurrence of what happened before,” Marshall said.
Marshall, who also works with at-risk youth as director of the Omega Boys Club, said members of the community “want justice, but at the same time, they want peace.”
Brown advised San Francisco residents to remember the contrast between the reaction to the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles and the nonviolent approach of Nelson Mandela.
“Don’t let no opportunist con you into a violent response,” he said. “There’s no excuse for anybody to be madder than Mr. Grant’s family.”
The family has called for a nonviolent response to the verdict.
Police in Oakland, San Francisco and other Bay Area cities are gearing up for the response to the verdict, though Gascon today said he had no evidence to believe there would be violence in San Francisco.
“A tragic event occurred,” Gascon said. “And we want to take this tragic event and turn it into something positive.”
“Be Heard, Teach Peace!” events are being held today at the Joseph Lee Recreation Center at 1395 Mendell St.; Wednesday at the Ella Hill Hutch Center at 1050 McAllister St.; and Thursday at Visitacion Valley Middle School at 450 Raymond Ave. Each runs from noon to 6 p.m.
Deliberations in the trial began Friday afternoon and, after being suspended today because of a sick juror, are scheduled to continue Wednesday morning.