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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Police State and Prisons | Racial Justice
BART Uses Faux "Community" at Press Conference to Attack Ammiano for BART's Own Failures: audio and photos
BART held a press conference on Monday, August 24th purportedly to lobby for its newly-developed police oversight proposal. They want the state legislature to support their plan by making two limited changes to the BART Act rather than to support AB312 which was introduced in February by Assemblyperson Tom Ammiano in order to mandate civilian police oversight at BART.
What began as a seemingly earnest effort to encourage the public to lobby legislators for BART's plan, which included BART's appearance at this week's Town Hall for Justice to enlist community support for their press conference, was soon revealed Monday morning as a disgraceful attempt to exploit community activists and Oscar Grant's family as props in a crass shifting of responsibility through a direct attack on Ammiano.
The contemporary, smart alec colloquial use of the word "fail" on the internet seems apt here... BART press conference: big - time - FAIL! They ruffled the wrong feathers in the state legislature. They offended the family of Oscar Grant and community activists who have been fighting for justice since January while BART has yet to admit responsibility or hold a single person accountable.
BART promoted the press conference to the corporate media as "Community Leaders Urge Action by State Legislature" but brought in as props numerous people who have had nothing to do with the community fight for justice at BART. In fact, the majority of the people called to stand before the corporate media cameras to represent "the community" have not attended protests, Town Halls, or even BART meetings to press BART for justice for Oscar Grant. A few of the faux community members did appear out of the blue at the July 30th public forum on BART's police oversight plan to praise BART for its proposal. Real community activists and Oscar Grant's family members present at the press conference were offended and left scratching their heads as to who most of the people standing for the cameras even were. They feel "punked" and it will be a long time before any community activists trust that BART is showing good faith again.
Equally offensive (and dishonest) was the very direct attack on Ammiano. It was Ammiano who originally proposed that BART needed civilian oversight of its police force in February, when BART had not even broached the concept or done anything except issue denials of responsibility for its corrupt police force. BART effectively quashed Ammiano's AB312 in April. And now in their press conference they wanted to put out the idea that the one big barrier to justice being delivered at BART was Tom Ammiano. This is ironic considering that BART has yet to hold a single person accountable (BART police officer Johannes Mehserle and BART Police Chief Gee have been allowed to resign rather than be fired). Additionally, it was not until five months after Oscar Grant was murdered that BART even began to meet about police oversight, and it was only eleven days after the BART Board approved their police oversight plan that they attacked Ammiano for not yet having adopted it. In fact, it was not until after people questioned BART about it the morning of the press conference, that they posted their latest draft of their police oversight plan on their website. The exact language of their BART Act amendment request has yet to be made public (although it presumably mirrors the "General Legislative Changes Required" noted by BART lawyers in July). The biggest irony of all, though, is that if BART had gotten behind AB312 way back in February, it is possible that the BART Police Department would already have some form of civilian oversight in place by now.
BART Board Director Carole Ward Allen appeared to be the puppet master of this dog and pony show. She kept calling people to come up in front of the cameras and directed them as to where to stand. When she herself spoke and introduced the press conference, she noted that their police oversight proposal is not perfect, which is an understatement. Concessions in the proposal were made to placate BART police, such as by assigning two BART police representatives to the subcommittee tasked with creating their oversight model and by granting BART police one appointment to the "citizen" police review board, yet BART police still oppose the plan and promised to align with other statewide police interests to fight it in the California legislature.
Cephus "Uncle Bobby" Johnson, Oscar Grant's uncle, and Minister Keith Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, spoke on behalf of the state legislature moving forward on police oversight at BART. Both are long-time fighters for justice for Oscar Grant, Minister Keith having served on the BART subcommittee on police oversight at the request of Oscar Grant's family, led the majority of the Town Halls for Justice, and personally pressured District Attorney Tom Orloff to press charges for the murder of Oscar Grant.
Rev. Daniel Buford, who was the other of the two community members on the BART subcommittee on police oversight and has been involved in the Town Halls for Justice, voiced more forceful and righteous indignation toward Ammiano than he has for the most part toward any of the perpetrators or their apologists at BART. He railed against Ammiano for most of his 5-minute speech, virtually calling Ammiano an enemy of justice and people of color. While there are serious differences that could be debated between BART's version of police oversight (where police appoint a "citizen" board member) and Ammiano's AB312 (which mandates a specific police oversight model contrary to BART's wishes), Daniel Buford reduced it to a question of Ammiano's ego trumping his desire for justice. Even worse, Rev. Amos Brown, all too eager to jump in late in the game and act as cheerleader for BART as one of the faux community activists, attempted to foster some sort of gay versus black divide when he attacked Ammiano on matters related to sexual orientation which had absolutely nothing to do with the issue of police oversight at BART.
Youth from the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center spoke in support of the concept of police oversight in general, fully accepting BART's proposal without question. Likewise, Rev. Archbishop Lewis misleadingly took credit for having done the work to help create the BART police oversight plan, dismissed problems with the proposal such as the disempowering supermajority requirements, and pushed for BART's plan to move forward unexamined and unrevised. The Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center youth and Rev. Lewis first became known to long-time justice for Oscar Grant community activists at the July 30th BART public forum when they basically cheerlead for BART's police oversight draft.
For reasons not made pubic, BART Board Directors Tom Radulovich and Joel Keller, both of whom were listed in the printed agenda, did not appear for the press conference. Tom Radulovich was on the police oversight subcommittee and actually called for the firing of General Manager Dorothy Dugger in February.
BART Board Director Lynnette Sweet, who seems sincere in her desire to establish accountability in the BART police department, at least in the future, closed the press conference by making statements of her own and by taking questions from the assembled corporate media and the handful of community activists in attendance. Questions that did not fall in line with the agenda of the press conference were largely dismissed. Lynette Sweet asserts that "BART has done it's job" when in actuality BART has not yet taken responsibility for the murder of Oscar Grant, has not yet been transparent with the public about the many failures of January 1st, nor has it held a single individual accountability eight months after the murder.
Rumor has it that there will be firings (or resignations) announced at the BART Board meeting on Thursday, August 27th. If that is true, then that would satisfying some of the most basic demands that have been made by community activists seeking justice for Oscar Grant and his friends on the platform with him when he was murdered. The recently released Meyers Nave report, while wholly incomplete in what has been released to the public, was critical of BART police adherence to policy but does not appear to have addressed many of the known issues from New Year's Day nor the cover-up perpetrated by BART in the aftermath. As for police oversight, BART's plan is lacking in many ways, namely in that they are basically asking legislators and the public to trust them to handle it appropriately -- the changes they are requesting at the legislature do not mandate real civilian oversight but merely allow BART to establish it according to their current proposal. They would be free to not actually see it through, to amend it at will, or cancel it at any point in the future as they wish without a state mandate. To highlight the risks entailed in not mandating a specific oversight model, BART is currently negotiating with PORAC (Peace Officers Research Association of California) on what form police oversight might take at BART, creating concerns about the seeming flexibility with which BART views their current proposal, the same proposal that they trumpet as being so strong. PORAC has offered to support police oversight at BART in the California legislature if civilians having any say in discipline for officer misconduct is removed from the proposal. PORAC is attempting to work with BART now on oversight because they have a greater fear of Ammiano's AB312 which would set a precedent with state-mandated police oversight in California. Additionally, Assemblymember Sandre Swanson agreed on August 26th to sponsor BART's proposed limited changes to the BART Act if civilians are similarly disempowered in any police oversight.
Justice is a long way off. Progress appears to be happening as things move forward at BART, and with the pending prosecution of Johannes Meherle for murder, but nothing concrete has yet to happen and serious concerns remain about transparency and accountability at BART. Despite their best efforts to gin up real community support for itself or fake it as need be at the press conference, BART is far from deserving congratulations from the those who demand justice for Oscar Grant and his friends.
Questions begin at 32 minutes into press conference.
They express indignation at the supposed "community" backers of BART and wonder where were BART Directors Keller and Radulovich at this press conference.
Download PDF (2.9mb)
And there has been no public notice of the specific language they are requesting legislators modify or insert into BART Act.
Download PDF (184.0kb)
(6-page PDF; pages 2 and 4 are blank)
Where were Directors Joel Keller and Tom Radulovich? Why were they not present at BART's dog and pony press conference? Why were only pictures of Directors Carole Ward Allen and Lynette Sweet included?
The MLK Jr Freedom Center is quoted in the press release on page five of this PDF lobbying state legislators to vote for BART's supposed plan, yet 1) MLK Jr Freedom Center was not involved in pressuring or even working with BART to create a plan, and 2) BART mislead everyone by creating a plan in a semi-public meeting process yet actually gave language to the California legislature that was a drastic departure from what BART was asking the public to support. See the post below from BART's Board meeting for more on BART's bait and switch betrayal of the community.
Community Demands Action at BART Board Meeting; BART Lies Yet Again: video and audio