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Police Prepare for Mehserle Jury Verdict Fallout

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 28, 2010 5:19 PM

As the trial of Johannes Mehserle, the BART police officer charged with the shooting death of Oscar Grant last New Year's Day, begins to draw to a close, law enforcement, community activists and city officials in Oakland and San Francisco are bracing for the possible reaction to the jury verdict. Although the shooting occurred in the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, Ca, the trial is taking place in Los Angeles. Authorities expect the biggest reaction to a not guilty verdict to come in the San Francisco Bay Area.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Mehserle testified in his own defense that Oscar Grant was shot after he mistakenly pulled his gun rather than his Taser while trying to arrest Grant. Grant was shot in the back and later died of his injuries. Despite the fact that the defendant is white and the victim was black, there are no African-Americans on the jury.

The Mercury News news reports that during the protests that turned to riots following Oscar Grant's death, at least 40 businesses were vandalized, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars of property damage. More than 100 demonstrators were arrested. In an effort to be prepared should there be a strong reaction to a not guilty verdict, the Oakland Police Department has conducted training exercises for crowd control and riots. Police are also monitoring fliers, notices and social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, in an attempt to stay abreast of any early indications of plans for mass gatherings after the jury verdict is announced.

The community focus is not just on possible violence, but on managing an unpredictable situation in the best possible way. Authorities have also reached out to local community leaders, including ministers, in advance of any planned demonstrations, according to Holly Joshi, an Oakland police spokeswoman. Attempts will be made to manage public reaction, not to prevent it. Linton Johnson, the chief communications officer for BART told the Mercury News that BART will not attempt to prevent peaceful rallies or demonstrations. "Part of upholding the law is allowing people to engage in free speech," he said.

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and Police Chief Anthony Batts issued a joint statement Friday, June 25, emphasizing the need for calm. It read in part:

"We are dedicated to ensuring the safe expressions of emotions during this difficult time. We understand that the community is grieving, and we are in this together. We will get through this together. We are asking the community to come together, look out for one another and stay safe. We will not tolerate destruction or violence."

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