BART owes Oscar Grant justice

May 11, 2009

OAKLAND, Calif.--More than a hundred people gathered at a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) board meeting on May 2 to demand justice for Oscar Grant III, who was killed by transit police early on New Year's Day. BART officials called the public meeting to discuss possible models for a future civilian oversight commission to monitor the activities and practices of the BART police.

Five months after his death, Grant's family has yet to receive the restitution they deserve from BART officials. Not one member of the BART administration has resigned or been disciplined, and besides the resignation of the officer who shot Grant, none of the other officers involved have been reprimanded.

Members of the Community Council, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the Nation of Islam, the International Socialist Organization and No Justice No BART came to the meeting to decry the board's hypocrisy in trying to create an oversight board when they tried to sweep Grant's murder under the carpet in the first place.

In the days after Grant, a 22-year-old African American father of a 4-year-old daughter, was shot and killed as he lay subdued by transit police on the concrete platform of the Fruitvale BART station, BART Police Chief Gary Gee tried to hide officers' role in the incident. He avoided interviewing Officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot Grant in the back, and exonerated the other officers in a public statement, saying "All of the other officers who responded to the incident at around 2 a.m. at the Fruitvale Station followed protocol and they performed their duties in a professional manner."

Furthermore, Gee denied the existence of evidence of the murder and misrepresented the facts of the case, until several cell phone videos taken by terrified BART passengers began circulating in the news. Despite his gross misconduct, BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger has supported Gee throughout the investigation.

Most in the audience felt the board's forum on future civilian oversight was an insincere gesture. The meeting itself was unbearably long--1 p.m. to 5 p.m.--with the first two hours taken up by a panel of eight speakers talking about different models of commissions for police oversight. Even before the public comment period began, all these speakers left the event, leaving the BART board alone to hear 100 angry community members. Gee wasn't even present at the meeting.

In a powerful display, members of Oscar's family and activists who have been organizing around Grant's case, berated the board for the rest of the afternoon. Wanda Johnson, Grant's mother, forced BART's general manager to admit that she had no idea how much of the promised additional training the BART police had received since the shooting. To avoid giving straight answers as to why there has been no accountability of the BART police, Dugger said that she "was not an expert on anything" and should refer questions to Chief Gee.

With this confident display of defiance, Grant supporters demonstrated their commitment to hold the BART administration and police accountable for Grant's murder. Despite the efforts of the BART authorities to wash their hands of responsibility for the shooting, they are still being put on the defensive.

Throughout the meeting, activists pointed to future actions as next steps for the movement. Protests are planned for May 18, which is Mehserle's preliminary hearing. All of those that spoke out against the BART board agreed that a civilian police review board is a good idea for a police force, but it will take further grassroots pressure to get justice for Oscar Grant.

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