Calls for justice - Page 3

Will the former BART cop who shot Oscar Grant spend time behind bars?

Protesters carry posters at a July 8 rally in downtown Oakland

"PORAC ... will actively oppose your bill as it is written," Jesse Sekhon, president of the BART Police Officers' Association, wrote in a letter to Ammiano's office. "They also said that they will have every law enforcement agency in the state oppose the bill." Ammiano's bill would have prevented police officers from serving in oversight roles and would have granted more power to the OCC.

The bill that went forward instead, Assembly Bill 1586, was crafted by BART, supported by PORAC, and introduced by Assemblymember Sandre Swanson (D-Oakland). Under this system, the oversight process begins with a police auditor selected by the BART Board of Directors, and a citizen board — which may include police officers.

According to Lynette Sweet, a member of the BART Board who spoke about the bill during a community meeting in Oakland in August 2009, PORAC opposed Ammiano's bill because it would have allowed the state to direct municipalities throughout California to create civilian-oversight offices. "PORAC doesn't want to see that happen. So we've now become the lesser of two evils for them," she said.

On Oct. 29, BART held a dedication ceremony for the new police auditor office and honored Swanson for bringing the legislation forward. The transit agency has initiated a search to fill the civilian-oversight positions. But the rifts in the community over this shooting are far from healed.

On one side, a politically powerful and financially robust police lobby is actively influencing civilian-oversight legislation and spending top dollar trying to keep Mehserle out of prison. On the other, a grassroots community movement furious about police brutality against black and Latino youth is gaining momentum.

Only Judge Robert Perry knows what his own personal interpretation of justice is, and he alone will determine if or for how long Mehserle will spend time behind bars. If he is spared from prison, the community will be outraged. If he is incarcerated, Mehserle supporters will be outraged. But regardless of the decision, Mehserle's life will go on.