Mehserle Supporters Face Opposition at Protest
Supporters of former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle clash with anti-police demonstrators in Walnut Creek, Calif. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 shooting death of Oscar J. Grant III on a train platform in Oakland.
San Francisco Chronicle via YellowBrix
July 20, 2010
WALNUT CREEK, CA – Supporters of a white former BART officer convicted of involuntary manslaughter for killing an unarmed black passenger squared off against anti-police protesters Monday in a noisy demonstration that closed a suburban commuter thoroughfare and brought a massive police presence.
The demonstration in this upscale, predominantly white suburb a short distance from Oakland began as a rally to express sympathy for Johannes Mehserle, who is behind bars as he awaits sentencing.
Demonstrators who said they were retired officers or had friends and family in law enforcement gathered in a courthouse parking lot with signs that read “Mercy for Mehserle,” “Jail Criminals, Not Police” and “If U Don’t Like Police Officers, Next Time You Need Help, Call a Meth Head.”
Counter-demonstrators on the sidewalk spilled into the street and eventually outnumbered the officer’s supporters. Some carried signs that read"Kill the Killer Mehserle, “Remember Rodney King” and “Justice for Oscar Grant.”
Oscar J. Grant III, 22, was shot on New Year’s Day 2009 as he lay face-down on a BART station platform. Mehserle, 28, testified he mistakenly grabbed his firearm instead of an electric Taser during a struggle with Grant, and that the shooting was a tragic accident.
Bob and Sharon Reading, both retirees, said they attended the rally to ask for compassion for Mehserle and his family.
“He made a tragic mistake,” said Bob Reading, 73, a retired sheriff’s captain who is white. “If it weren’t a racial thing, he probably would have gotten 20 to 30 days’ suspension and that would have been it.”
Adimu Madyun, 37, an African American filmmaker who traveled from Oakland to join the counter-protest, said those rallying for Mehserle were motivated by race.
“This is all racial,” he said. “If Mehserle was black, they wouldn’t be out here protesting this.”
Reading countered that he would have come for a black officer too. “They wouldn’t be here if the victim was white,” he snapped.
The pro-Mehserle rally was organized on Facebook. Supporters said they chose Walnut Creek because it was centrally located. Mehserle lived in an adjoining community.
Laura Castillo, 45, a pro-Mehserle demonstrator, said she hoped he would “walk.” She defended the idea of a rally for the former officer. Pointing to the other crowd, she asked: “Why do they get to speak if we don’t?”
About 150 police officers from Walnut Creek, four other cities and the Contra Costa Sheriffs Department were called in to monitor the demonstration, which drew about 300 people. There were no arrests.
Mehserle is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 5 in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Involuntary manslaughter carries a sentence of two to four years in prison, but a sentencing enhancement for using a gun means Mehserle faces an additional three to 10 years.