OAKLAND, Calif. — About 300 protesters gathered in downtown Oakland on Sunday to show their anger over a former San Francisco Bay Area transit police officer’s pending release from jail after serving 11 months of a two-year sentence for killing an unarmed passenger.
Under a heavy police presence, the protesters held a peaceful demonstration near City Hall as they vented their continued frustration before Johannes Mehserle’s scheduled release Monday from a Los Angeles County jail. He was ordered to serve time there after his high-profile trial was moved to Southern California last year.
“The people know it was wrong,” Jabari Shaw, 32, a protester who also attended Mehserle’s trial, said Sunday. “As much as we want justice, we’re still not getting it.”
Mehserle, 29, was convicted last July of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Grant, 22, on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train station platform on New Year’s Day 2009.
The shooting of Oscar Grant, who was black, continues in Oakland to spark debate, racial tension and occasional protests that have turned violent. Last fall, more than 150 people were arrested in Oakland hours after Mehserle’s sentencing.
On Sunday, the protesters first gathered at that Oakland train station where Grant was killed chanting, “We are all Oscar Grant!” Some protesters carried a mock casket symbolizing Grant’s death as they marched downtown.
One person was arrested for spray painting graffiti, police said.
Earlier Sunday, Jack Bryson, whose two sons were with Grant when he was killed, introduced the crowd to Grant’s young daughter, Tatiana, telling them that while Mehserle will soon go home to his young child, Grant’s daughter is fatherless.
“Johannes Mehserle gets a second chance. Oscar didn’t,” Bryson said. “That’s why it’s so important that we stick together to continue to try to make changes. Remember, we’ll never forget Oscar Grant.”
Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, has declined to comment on his client’s pending release. Rains recently said in published reports that Mehserle is ready to move on with his life.
The memory of Grant is prevalent in Oakland as his supporters range from all ages and backgrounds. His omnipresent image on buildings and storefront windows has remained visible and it has grown in the days leading up to Mehserle’s release.
On Sunday, several downtown Oakland businesses were boarded up in anticipation of unruliness, while a few with Grant’s likeness on their windows, remained open.
Grant supporters in both Oakland and Los Angeles on Monday plan to march to their respective U.S. attorneys’ offices and demand that the Department of Justice look into possible federal prosecution. Grant supporters in both Oakland and Los Angeles on Monday had planned to march to their respective U.S. attorneys’ offices and demand that the Department of Justice look into a possible federal civil rights violation.
A civil lawsuit against Mehserle and several other officers involved with Grant’s shooting is still pending.
Grant’s family attorney, John Burris, on Sunday urged the Oakland crowd before their march downtown to remain peaceful as they exercised their freedom of speech.
“There’s still an opportunity for all of us to continue our sense of outrage, our sense of frustration at the (criminal justice) system and do what we can through public speaking, through organizing, community involvement to continue his legacy,” Burris said.
Grant’s uncle, Darryl Johnson, also thanked demonstrators for their continued support.
“A crime was committed, but it wasn’t paid for. This needs to stop and the only way it’s going to stop is if we stand together,” Johnson said. “Our voices are whispers in the wind, until we all stand together asking for the same thing that’s the only way it’s going to change.”
The protest ended shortly after 7 p.m. as police stood watch over a lingering crowd.
“I can’t tell you what to do, but I strongly suggest that you start to disburse,” Cat Brooks, a protest co-organizer, told the crowd. “I’m just a caring concerned citizen who loves all of you.
“I don’t want another black or brown man caught up in this mess.”