Youth leaders and the East Palo Alto Police Department are preparing to calm any upset and potential reaction by the city's youth if former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle is acquitted for killing Oscar Grant.
City and youth leaders don't anticipate widespread violence in East Palo Alto, police and youth-group leaders said. But pain is running deep in the racially diverse community over what some see as a pattern of excessive police force against minority youth in general.
The shooting and trial has added one more layer to the general distrust of youth against police, community leaders said.
Agencies are working with youth and police are preparing, whether to respond locally or regionally, if needed.
"We do not expect anything to happen, but we always prepare for the worst," police Chief Ronald Davis said.
The department has enlisted San Mateo County Sheriff's officers and has updated civil-unrest training among its officers, he said. One or two teams of officers will be added to keep the force staffed at a higher level after the verdict, he said.
In regular meetings with youth throughout the community, Davis said he has not picked up anything to indicate there would be unrest. But he is not discounting the anger and frustration that some people feel toward the system, he said.
"In our day-to-day interaction with young people, some young people may have a little less trust in law enforcement," he said.
Davis said he anticipates that frustration could spill out at police during one-on-one encounters. He has instructed officers to be understanding and to give people a little leeway -- but without endangering themselves or the community, he said.
Youth-group leaders are reticent to discuss the issue.
One leader, who asked to remain anonymous, said she did not anticipate any riots in East Palo Alto. But many youth still don't like police, she said.
"There's an urban myth that all cops are bad. This is a piece of that, and that's a huge problem," she said.
Grant's fatal shooting is a tension that police will have to contend with, the youth leader said.
"If he (Mehserle) gets off, it will be painful. It doesn't matter if it was an accident. His accident killed somebody. For our kids, it gives them fuel for their fire. If there's justice, I think that will take the edge off a bit. But it's a huge black eye to our justice system and our police," she said.
The youth leader recalled living in East Palo Alto when four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted by a white jury for beating Rodney King, who is black.
"The tension was really thick," she said, saying that some people smashed windows in the city.
But regarding the Mehserle trial, "I don't think there will be an uprising per se. Our own community would get that under control pretty quickly," she said.
East Palo Alto benefits in some way by not having a central downtown where people can vent frustration, which she said helped diffuse anger after the Rodney King verdict.
But the hype surrounding the trial and verdict will rile feelings. The leader said she fears that some kids might feel the need to go to Oakland to join the fray and protest.
"There's something about blood in the water. There's something about kids being drawn to it," she said.
The youth leader said her organization has already had conversations with youth to help process their feelings. Each week, the youth group has an open night when kids can come and speak about their reactions to any number of events, including the current trial.
"We try to diffuse the logic in (thinking that retaliation is) logical," she said.
Mehserle's lawyer, Michael Rains, has admitted that Mehserle shot and killed Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man, at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2009, after he and other officers responded to a report that there was a fight on a train.
But Rains claims the shooting was an accident and Mehserle, who is free on $3 million bail, meant to use his Taser stun gun on Grant. Testimony in Mehserle's trial concluded on Tuesday. Jurors are expected to begin deliberating Mehserle's fate late today (Thursday) or on Friday morning.