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More than 300 residents and activists gathered outside Oakland’s City Hall today to protest the two-year prison sentence handed down to former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who fatally shot Oscar Grant III in 2009.
“Two years is not enough. It’s a step forward. But it’s not enough,” said Talia Jefferson, an attorney with www.iamoscargrant.org, which is a website voicing beliefs about unnecessary police brutality.
“We will continue to build and to organize until the state understands that we will not lie down silently as they murder the people in cold blood,” attorney Ann Weills said on the website.
Mehserle, 28, was convicted on July 8 of involuntary manslaughter for fatally shooting 22-year-old Grant, a Hayward man who was unarmed, at BART’s Fruitvale station in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009.
Protests on the evening of the conviction started peacefully, but there was looting and vandalism later that night. At least 78 people were arrested in connection to the protests.
About 75 volunteers attended today’s rally to help keep the peace, but only 20 felt brave enough to wear bright orange vests that represented what they were doing, one of the peacekeepers said.
“The verdict was so horrendous some don’t want to put on the vests. They are afraid people don’t want to keep the peace,” said Rev. Mutima Imani, a member of Faces of East Bay, a group that provides peacekeeper training in Oakland.
“As a peacekeeper, it’s hard to ask people to make peace when there is so much injustice,” she said.
Demonstrations at the rally included slam poets, singers, and speakers expressing heartfelt words.
“I’m not surprised at what happened,” said Sherri Moore, an Oakland resident. “We’re not supposed to fear people, and we’re not supposed to hate each other.”
Rasheedah Sabreen, a singer at the event, said, “I moved from Philadelphia to get away from one of the most corrupt police forces. I didn’t know I was jumping from the frying pan into the fire.”
Police spokesman Officer Jeff Thomason said he expects today’s protests, which have been taking place since about 2 p.m., will remain peaceful throughout the evening.
“It’s been very peaceful, and we anticipate it will continue to be peaceful,” he said.
Groups of at least four officers lurked around the outer edges of the rally outside City Hall, and at least 10 or more congregated near the back of the lawn.
“We have a few officers on-hand here to show our presence,” Thomason said. “But we also have many officers out of sight.”
Saul Sugarman, Bay City News