News

East Palo Alto cautious as Mehserle verdict looms

Police, youth leaders anticipate frustration and anger but no violence if officer is acquitted for killing Oscar Grant

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.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by I wish I had spoken up
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2010 at 2:15 pm

I wish that I had spoken up earlier in regards to the character of Tony Pirone as I recall him. In 2003 or 2004 I sold Tony Pirone a vehicle. If this is the same Tony Pirone (which does look like the man I sold the car to), he was at that time extremely boisterous, pretentious and lacked emotional intelligence. I spent several hours with the man I believe to be Tony Pirone. I Provided multiple vehicle presentations and finally a negotiation with him. I am African American. The Tony Pirone I sold the vehicle to initially started speaking in a stereotypical Ebonics style after I greeted him in a professional manner. He did eventually start speaking in his normal tone halfway through the experience, as I replied to all communication from him in a professional tone.

I believe I summed him up appropriately. The primary objective of a licensed salesman is to evaluate and size up the buyer through casual yet professional inquiries and observation. We examine attributes such as honesty, intelligence, vulnerability and ability to understand and engage in negotiation strategy. In my professional opinion, Mr.Pirone was an easy customer, as his desire to create the appearance of importance was greater than his ability and understanding of negotiation. He was what the industry refers to as a "Lay Down Larry." He trapped himself into the higher price as he could not understand the merit of a proper down payment or how to rebut my reasons why the price would not be dropped.

Again, the Tony Pirone associated with the Oscar Grant shooting is the man I believe I sold the vehicle to in 2003 or 2004. I wish I had come forward as a witness to his character right away.


Like this comment
Posted by Truth Seeker
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 1, 2010 at 4:40 pm

What a sad commentary on East Palo Alto that there could even be the potential for violence in response to a jury attempting to discharge its legal duties. In Oakland, of course, it's even worse. "Community Organizers" have already planned a rally on the courthouse steps after the verdict, a provocative step to say the least. Is this sort of reverse race-baiting becoming the vision of justice we want to see in America?

And why are our political leaders silent, as they were silent about the rioting in the wake of the original event.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 1, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Honestly, i hope there are riots if the verdict is in favor of the defendant.


Like this comment
Posted by Police Watch of San Mateo County
a resident of Woodside
on Jul 1, 2010 at 6:42 pm

If Mehserle's convicted of anything less than second degree murder, although he's absolutely GUILTY of first degree murder and should face capital punishment for his crime, hopefully cities all over California if not the nation will publicly protest. That's what it took to get Federal Prosecutor's to try and convict the thugs who beat Rodney King, ultimately sending them to prison where they belonged all along. The District Attorney's Office handling this case should put Johannes Mehserle on death row and televise his execution. Maybe then these human beings will understand that there are consequences for their actions REGARDLESS of their employment.


Like this comment
Posted by Mel
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2010 at 7:49 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 1, 2010 at 8:00 pm

"although he's absolutely GUILTY of first degree murder and should face capital punishment for his crime"

I have a very negative view of police officers. I can honestly say I do not trust them, nor will I trust any of them for the rest of my life. That said, it is obvious that "Police Watch of San Mateo County" does not know what he/she is talking about and did not watch the video of the incident - this was an obvious accident and he should get no more than involuntary manslaughter. There was no good reason to pull out the taser (poor training) and the officer acted in a negligent manner, but that is all there is.

I have no doubt that many Blacks and Hispanics have been unfairly targeted and mistreated by police officers but that is not a good reason to make a completely irresponsible example of this particular officer. The DA and the Judge in Alameda County who promoted this as First Degree Murder were driven by politics (perhaps even reverse racism) and are not fit to serve in the Justice System. By mischarging the case the DA and the Judge have contributed to the possibility of a negative reaction (riot) when a reasonable verdict is delivered.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm - to Mel
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 1, 2010 at 9:08 pm

EPA is not a sewer, but of course the media love to report on the negatives. EPA, like many towns, is a complex place and has its share of problems. It's very easy to posit stupid opinions like yours, and you play into the bias w/out real facts. Good luck in the long run w/that point of view.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 1, 2010 at 9:11 pm

What is this about 1st degree murder? Legally, how could that be an option? Mehserle didn't know Grant. I've watched the video over and over, and it truly looks like a horrendous, terrible mistake. I understand manslaughter. But murder one? Mehserle, according to people I know who work for BART, had a decent rep and was liked by employees there who weren't cops. Many of those employees are African American. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff].


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed in Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2010 at 10:05 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2010 at 10:23 pm

I can't believe the attitudes of people on both sides of the issue posting here as if they know more than the jury. I wasn't on the train, wasn't in the courtroom, have seen some of the video and seen or heard nothing that makes me feel that I should know more than the jury. The legal system must be allowed to run its course and the verdict must be accepted.

The fact that there are threats of violence by the victims supporters if the result is not what they want is in fact an attempt to interfere with justice. It is blatant disregard for the judicial system and the honorable citizens who are doing their civic duty by serving on a jury. I can honestly say that if I was on trial for anything, that these people are the last ones I would want on my jury.

I hope that the jury comes to a conclusion based on the evidence presented in the court without taking any account of the prejudices some erroneously feel this case is about.

If this was a case where the police officer and the victim were both of the same race, the result should be just the same.


Like this comment
Posted by Absolutely Disappointed in Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2010 at 11:17 pm

Are you on narcotics ? "zipped his lip and behaved". WoW!

People of Color will no longer tolerate your racism ! We are educated, utilize and engineer many of these products. And we know how to use them to capture injustices of the "so called authorities".
People in authority who are unstable and volatile such as Mehserle.
To be a Bart "Peace" officer, one SIMPLY needs 30 college-semester units. In fact most venues are satisfied with their cops completing ONLY 30 units. That is appalling ! It should be raised to a MANDATORY 60 college-semester units. I will never ride BART again, for fear of being murdered by uneducated racists pretending to reach for their Tasers!

The video clearly shows the victim presenting his palms while both Pirone and Mehserle used unnecessary force and mauled a man who was in full compliance. Mehserle knew the difference between the texture, weight and feel of his Taser and that of a cold heavy steel pistol! I can assure you. He knew exactly what he was doing. He yelled inappropriate racial terms while he continued to violate the victims civil rights. He should sit BRIEFLY on death row for what he did and Pirone should be indicted for accessory to murder, conspiracy to commit murder, perjury, inciting a riot and of course excessive force. After shooting the victim in his back, both Mehserle and Pirone continued to use excessive and unnecessary force. Pirone even pulled the victim, Oscar Grant's hair while he laid there dying.

Here is the URL of the (REAL) video close up: You better take another look!

Web Link

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by G TOWN
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 2, 2010 at 12:46 am

POLICE are the only gang i know that covers each others tracks.They work the loop holes in every case like this.They protect thier own and serve the rest of us lame justice.


Like this comment
Posted by concerned resident
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2010 at 6:16 am

How can people even think of rioting over something that is being worked on by the justice system. Are we forgetting the law of the land. Some of the comments here are ludicrous.
Some folks are just trying to incite anger and dis-trust. There can be "bad apples"" anywhere. What are we trying to teach our youth, go on a rioting rampage just because things do not go your way.

We are a creating a facade, and, future problems. If you want to help BECOME part of the SOLUTION. Join the police or the justice system, otherwise leave it to the system.

God Bless.


Like this comment
Posted by second degree
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2010 at 8:06 am

Second degree murder is a very reasonable verdict given the evidence. The only reason to acquit the defendant is that the defense attorney managed to prevent bar African-Americans from the jury.


Like this comment
Posted by Cop Watcher
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 2, 2010 at 8:43 am

There never has been a fair justice system for the Black Man. Protected custody or not the inmates are not going to allow the killer to walk out of there once he goes to the pen.


Like this comment
Posted by Frightened of these comments
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2010 at 9:27 am

The comments by many of Grant's supporters are frightening. Grant was a thug and a man convicted of multiple felonies who had served two prison terms. He was continuing his thuggish behavior the night he was shot. Had he not been behaving like a thug, he would be alive today.

That is NOT a judgment over whether the officer was guilty of a crime or should serve a prison term. From here, it really looks to me like the officer made a tragic mistake, but I am willing to accept the verdict of a jury of his peers.

But the cop-hatred from Grant's supporters is a bit too much to bear. Assuming you are law abiding, You have far, far more to fear from Oscar Grant and the felons like him than you do from the police.


Like this comment
Posted by Mr Ironic
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2010 at 10:23 am

Accident?

So if I kill someone by accident its ok?

These guys are supposed to be trained and they're shooting civilians in the back that are already face down on the ground and unarmed.

He shot him because he thought he had a gun then he changed his story to he thought he had his taser out. Check the record he told his co-workers he thought Grant had a gun thats why he shot him not that he thought he pulled the taser. He was video taped moments before the shot pointing his taser at people. So he took his taser out, flashed it at people then put it back in the holster and pulled out his gun. Even specialist say he didnt use ANY of the proper police training for situations such as this. Do you people really believe that a trained cop doesn't know the difference between a taser and a real gun?

A man is dead but its ok because it was an accident and a cop did it?
And they wonder why people dont trust the cops.
Im more affraid of cops than thugs. Cops are untouchable.
RIP Oscar grant


Like this comment
Posted by Pissed Off
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 2, 2010 at 10:41 am

To: Frightened of these comments
Oscar Grant regardless of his, "thug" status, had his civil rights violated. The cops are out of control.

Because I drive a high end sports car, I am pulled over, followed, given dirty looks and antagonized by cops daily. And I am no thug. In their eyes my crime is being a Black man.

Statement such as those coming from, "Frightened of these comments", will piss off the communities of Color into taking it to the streets.
That bart cop murder Oscar Grant and he should be sentenced to life or the death penalty. And he should have been charged with a hate crime too.


Like this comment
Posted by Pray for Mrs. Grant & Family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2010 at 11:04 am

Pray for the Grant Family. They are the survivors in pain.
The young man did not have to die. If the cops were not thugs themselves Oscar would be alive today !

RIP Oscar


Like this comment
Posted by Frightened of these comments
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2010 at 11:18 am

Wow, I am even more frightened of some of the responses to my comment. "Pissed off" etc. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] But as a black man, you know full well that you are far far more likely to suffer from violence from other black men than you are from police of whatever color. But It's free country and if the folks "taking it to the streets" don't resort to violence they'll have no problem from me.

But if the demonstrators act like thugs and destroy property as they so frequently do in brazen defiance of the law, don't expect me to sit there silently.


Like this comment
Posted by second degree
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2010 at 11:22 am

Accidentally killing someone through negligence or incompetence is still manslaughter.


Like this comment
Posted by Frightened of these comments
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2010 at 11:35 am

"Second Degree" I make no judgment about whether this should be ruled murder, manslaughter or a tragic non-criminal mistake. That is for the jury to decide after reviewing the evidence-- not you-- not me-- and certainly not the disgraces to humanity that threaten "uprisings" or any such nonsense if a jury doesn't deliver the verdict they want.

I will observe, however, that generally police are given significant latitude on the use of force during an encounter, for the precise reason that we don't want police to be too frightened of punishment to appropriate force when they are making life and death decisions involving community protection.


Like this comment
Posted by Justifiably Pissed Off
a resident of Stanford
on Jul 2, 2010 at 11:43 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

There is a word for a group of people who, dissatisfied with the verdict of a trial, take to the streets. They are called a Lynch Mob. It ill behooves a community that suffered much from Lynch mobs to validate that form of activism.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 2, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Some of these pro-riot, anti-police sentiments are ridiculous in what they are advising, advocating and supporting. What's really sad is that when people riot in their own neighborhoods, they often damage businesses owned by and which employ people of their own ethnic background.

As a BART rider, I see many, many African Americans treated well and well behaved who don't have problems w/the cops on BART. I stick by what I said before: if Grant had behaved he wouldn't have got into trouble w/the cops, leaving himself vulnerable to their ill treatment, mistakes or poor treatment.

While only a black man truly knows his experience w/cops, and many innocent black men are mistreated by the cops, Grant was no innocent black man. Of course he didn't deserve what happened to him, but comparing his behavior and his record to men truly wronged by the cops is intellectually dishonest.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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