Anger, protests ahead of release of ex-BART cop who killed Oscar Grant 

Protesters, police and transit officials are preparing for Monday’s release of former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle after he served a less than a year in jail for the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant III.

Mehserle’s release represents one of the final chapters in an ugly incident that inflamed tensions between Oakland’s police and its black community and led to protests remembered mainly for incidents of looting and vandalism.

New protests are planned at 3 p.m. today at Oakland’s Fruitvale BART station and at 14th Street and Broadway at 5:30 p.m. Protests also are planned in Los Angeles, where Mehserle is in custody.

Oakland police Officer Holly Joshi said police will “facilitate peaceful protests,” but won’t tolerate violence or destruction of property.

“Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, whatever day, we’ll be ready,” Joshi said. “There won’t be a large police presence in everyone’s way. However, we will be able to respond if things get out of hand.”

Protest organizer Rachel Jackson of the Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant said organizers are encouraging peaceful protests. But, she said, the anger in the community is understandable.

“Oscar was murdered on video- tape in front of the world, and this cop did less than a year,” she said. “We can’t tell people how they should feel, or how they should express what they feel. For a lot of people, it’s that the system does not work, and to the extent that it does, there are two systems of justice — one for low-income people and people of color, and another for police and people of means.”

Grant’s killing unfolded about 2 a.m. New Year’s Day 2009, when Mehserle and other officers responded to a report of a fight on a train. Mehserle shot Grant, a 22-year-old black man from Hayward, while Grant was lying face down on the station platform. Mehserle, who is white, claimed he meant to use his Taser.

Mehserle was arrested and charged with murder several days later, but a Los Angeles County jury in July convicted him of involuntary manslaughter, sparking protests — some violent — in downtown Oakland. Dozens of people were arrested.

Following last year’s late-afternoon verdict, thousands of people in downtown Oakland and San Francisco left work early and crowded into BART stations to try to make it home before any possible rioting.

“It was just amazing, the people that just took off as soon as the verdict came out,” said BART spokesman Linton Johnson, who was in Oakland at the time. “It was literally like, a bomb is about to go off in downtown Oakland and you’ve got five minutes. It was just a sea of people leaving.”

Johnson said BART will be monitoring the situation and “prepared for any contingency that we can think of.”

A judge sentenced Mehserle to a two-year term in November. On Friday, the judge who presided over the trial ruled the 29-year-old was to be released from jail Monday after serving 365 days as of today (including time in custody before sentencing) and receiving 366 days of credit for time served and other factors.

Aftermath of Oscar Grant III’s killing

Jan. 1, 2009: Oscar Grant III is shot by then-BART Officer Johannes Mehserle at Oakland’s Fruitvale station
Jan. 7, 2009: A protest march in Oakland turns violent with vandalism, looting and arson
Jan. 13, 2009: Mehserle is arrested and charged with Grant’s murder
Dec. 15, 2009: The highly publicized trial is moved to Los Angeles
July 8, 2010: Jury convicts Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter, sparking more protests and rioting in Oakland
Nov. 5, 2010: Mehserle receives two-year sentence with credit for time served
Monday: Mehserle will be released from jail

aburack@sfexaminer.com

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