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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Police State and Prisons
BART still doesn't get it; it's up to us to make sure they get the message
They still don't get it and the community is pissed:
Director Lynette Sweet [joked] that the meeting was keeping people from the National Football League playoffs.
"I don't think you guys realize what kind of fire you're playing with," said Dion Evans, pastor at Chosen Vessels Christian Church in Alameda.
BART calls meeting on killing, gets flak
Demian Bulwa, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, January 12, 2009
(01-11) 21:00 PST -- Eleven days after the video-recorded shooting of an unarmed man by a BART police officer, the transit agency has still not explained the killing, and the anger and political heat around the case remain intense.
That much was clear when officials from the transit agency invited community leaders and local politicians to a special Sunday meeting - and were lambasted for three hours.
Many of the speakers demanded that BART immediately arrest Johannes Mehserle, the BART police officer who in the early hours of New Year's Day fatally shot Oscar Grant as Grant lay face-down on the platform of the Fruitvale Station in Oakland.
Police had detained Grant, a 22-year-old supermarket worker from Hayward, along with a few others, around 2 a.m. as they investigated a fight aboard a train from San Francisco.
About 100 people attended Sunday's meeting. Some called for an extensive overhaul of the police agency and the way it trains officers. Others warned that inaction is dangerous, referring to riots over the shooting last week in downtown Oakland, where hundreds of car windows and storefronts were smashed.
Some speakers brought their children - African American boys - and said they needed to be able to tell them justice would be done.
The afternoon meeting at the Joseph P. Bort MetroCenter in Oakland was so tense that BART Director Carole Ward Allen - who represents the Fruitvale Station and opened the meeting with an apology to Grant's family - stood up and walked out for 10 minutes at one point after she and her colleagues were taken to task by Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks.
Allen later explained, "I was aware that I might say the wrong thing."
Fellow Director Lynette Sweet, meanwhile, apologized moments after joking that the meeting was keeping people from the National Football League playoffs. (WHAT THE FUCK?!?)
"I don't think you guys realize what kind of fire you're playing with," said Dion Evans, pastor at Chosen Vessels Christian Church in Alameda, addressing a BART panel that included General Manager Dorothy Dugger and Police Chief Gary Gee. Need for pressure
Many of the speakers - elected officials, clergy, labor representatives, activists - said they felt the need to apply constant political pressure in the investigation. They noted that police officers are rarely charged in criminal court and said they fear Grant's black skin color had something to do with what happened to him on the platform.
"It's not happening to other folk," said Amos Brown, the president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP, pointing at his own face to make his point.
Brown, a pastor at Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and a former city supervisor, asked BART to adopt a resolution that would "confess the sins of America" and acknowledge the existence of racism.
BART appears to be feeling the pressure: Dugger and Gee said they plan to wrap up their criminal investigation by the end of this week. And the agency has scheduled yet another special meeting for today at 1:30 p.m. at the Kaiser Center in Oakland. The board is scheduled to appoint a committee to figure out ways to avoid such shootings in the future.
Also today, the board today will meet behind closed doors to discuss a $25 million claim filed last week by Grant's family members, who intend to sue.
Asked after the meeting about the fury the case has generated, BART Director Bob Franklin said, "I think it's appropriate."
Community leaders asked Gee several times why Mehserle had not been arrested. Some speakers said they fear he might go on the run.
If that happens, Evans said, "there's going to be hell in the streets."
Joseph Anderson, a Berkeley activist, said, "and I'll be there." Legal restraints
The chief said in an interview after the meeting that the law prevented BART from arresting Mehserle during an ongoing investigation into an officer-involved shooting, no matter what the facts.
"We have to operate within the parameters of the criminal justice system," Gee said. "Officers fire their guns - sometimes negligently, sometimes accidentally, sometimes intentionally - and it's up to the district attorney to weigh the totality of the evidence."
BART, the Oakland Police Department and Alameda County prosecutors are investigating the shooting. On Thursday, District Attorney Tom Orloff said his office would make a decision on possible charges in two weeks.
In addition, state Attorney General Jerry Brown said Saturday that he is sending an observer to the district attorney's office to encourage prompt action. And the FBI is keeping an eye on the case as well, said spokesman Joseph Schadler, as is standard in cases that may involve civil rights.
Mehserle, 27, quit his job Wednesday, the day he was scheduled to be questioned by BART investigators, who ordered him to answer or face disciplinary action. Exercising his right to remain silent, he has declined to speak to criminal investigators as well. Neither Mehserle nor his lawyers have issued any public statements.
More protests over Grant's shooting are planned for this week.
E-mail Demian Bulwa at email@example.com.