Protesters yell during a demonstration against the shooting death of Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009. Grant was shot and killed by a police officer after an altercation on a BART train station platform in Oakland on New Year’s Day. (AP photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
OAKLAND, Calif. — The videotaped killing of an unarmed black man by a transit police officer here has inflamed long-running tensions between police and many African American residents.
Public outrage at the New Year’s Day slaying of 22-year-old Oscar Grant intensified as grainy footage of the shooting played repeatedly on television and the Internet, while the officer remained free and not charged with any crime.
Dozens of black community leaders and residents berated Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officials for hours at a meeting last Thursday, the morning after demonstrators torched cars, smashed store windows and threw bottles at officers in downtown Oakland.
More than 100 people were arrested and about 300 businesses were damaged last Wednesday. Three of the people arrested during the violence were arraigned Jan. 9 on various charges, including vandalism, arson and firearm possession.
To many, Grant’s death is the latest in a series of incidents — from a deadly shootout with the Black Panthers in the 1960s to the fatal shooting of another armed man in July — that have fueled mistrust of the police.
“Oakland, unfortunately, has had a history of treating the African American community unfairly,” said George Holland Sr., an attorney who heads the Oakland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “The community has a great distrust for police officers because they feel they can’t be punished.”
Harry Williams, an Oakland minister, viewed last Wednesday’s violent street protest in the context of that perceived injustice.
“People are just fed up, and Oscar Grant is the match that lit up the dynamite,” he said. Many residents perceive the police as “keepers of the gate instead of servants of the people,” he added.
Grant was the first person killed by BART police since 2001 when a 42-year-old man was shot at a station in the nearby city of Hayward, said spokesman Jim Allison.(p2)
"There’s a good chance that former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer Johannes Mehserle will be charged in the videotaped New Year’s Day killing of Oscar Grant, a young African American, in Oakland," writes Earl Ofari Hutchinson in his Jan. 15, 2009, Banner op-ed. "But getting a conviction in the fatal shooting will be a far different matter." More »
“We strategically know how to stop the city so people stand still and realize that you do not have the right to shoot down unarmed, innocent civilians,” the Rev. Al Sharpton told a crowd at the National Action Network office. “This city is going to deal with the blood of Sean Bell.” More »
"Between 1980 and 2005, close to 9,600 people were killed by police in America — an average of about one fatal shooting every day," wrote Rinku Sen and Alysia Tate in their Nov. 22, 2007, Banner op-ed. "African Americans are particularly at risk of being killed by police.
Black people were over-
represented among victims in each of America’s 10 largest cities." More »