Oakland Residents Bring Questions, Get Few Answers at BART Hearing

By Julianne Hing Jan 09, 2009

Hundreds of activists, students, religious leaders and local politicians attended a marathon public hearing at BART’s headquarters today over the fatal police shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. The public hearing came the morning after a peaceful civil protest turned riotous near the Fruitvale BART station where Grant was killed on New Year’s day. However, Oakland residents left the meeting with more questions than answers about the still unexplained death. Among the demands were calls for BART police officer Johannes Mehserle’s arrest. Mehserle resigned yesterday, avoiding both an internal affairs investigation by BART and a separate criminal investigation. Cell phone videos from that night showed several BART officers pinning an unarmed Grant face down on a BART platform, when Mehserle reached for his gun and shot him. Grant’s death was the latest in a string of shootings of young Black men in Oakland at the hands of lethally armed police officers who have all been cleared of their wrongdoing. "I told them that they should hold some…responsibility for what happened. Shot in the back and murdered–last time I heard, that’s called homicide," said activist Tahira Rasheed, who attended the meeting. "If anybody else from the public had accidentally shot somebody, they would be on their way to Santa Rita County Jail and awaiting trial for charges." "They want people to go back to sleep. They give [the public] some commission, some meeting and say, "Come testify," said Abdi Jibril, an Oakland resident. "But until there’s a full-scale apology by BART to the family, and to the community at large, there is going to be a lot more violence." The death of Oscar Grant reminded too many people of a similar case in 1992, when Jerrold Hall, a young Black man, was shot in the back of the head by a white BART police officer named Fred Crabtree in the parking lot of a Hayward BART station. In 2001, Bruce Seward, a mentally ill Black man was also shot to death by BART police officer David Betancourt. In both incidents, the BART police were cleared of all wrongdoing. Many protesters wondered about the policies that allowed for this string of shootings of young men of color by police officers who were all let off the hook. “We’re angry because we know things haven’t really changed,” said Oakland resident Kamil Jibril, who was at both today’s meeting and Wednesday night’s protest. Thirty police cars, and nearly a hundred cops, were stationed across the street from the meeting at the BART board room near Lake Merritt. Helicopters, the same ones that hovered in the skies last night after a peaceful civil protest turned riotous, circled above. After the BART public hearing adjourned, police moved to the 19th Street BART station and shut down several streets, bracing for more protests and possible vandalism. When asked if he planned to take part in upcoming protests, Kamil Jibril was uncertain. “People are still angry. The longer BART doesn’t deal with it, the more problems we’ll have,” he said. Oakland residents also expressed disappointment with the mainstream media coverage of the previous night’s protests. Wednesday night’s local television news was dominated by sensationalized footage of armored police officers clashing with protesters. “The live coverage all night of Oakland was a little biased,” said Dasha, a local student. “They were only showing the riots and not the actual protesters which started at Lake Merritt, which was a pretty uniform protest, and then it broke out.” Dasha questioned the racial agenda of media coverage that deliberately skewed events by, “displaying Oakland itself and how it’s a certain crowd would act out in terms of violence, the breaking of glass, the burning of cars.” “People are upset at the impunity that exists within the armed services that we call the police,” said Abdi Jibril. “People being outraged enough to tear shit up is a reflection of that anger, that nothing has changed for these police services.”