Fix the BART police force - or disband it

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18 months after a BART cop shot Oscar Grant, the transit agency still doesn't have effective police oversight

EDITORIAL Who murdered Oscar Grant? Part of the equation is the years of neglect of the BART Police. — Assembly Member Tom Ammiano

We're angry, too.

Angry that a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man could wind up with little or no prison time. Angry that the news media whipped up such a fervor over the potential for a riot in Oakland that it almost guaranteed someone would show up and break a few windows. Angry that the jury who decided this case was 400 miles away and included no African Americans.

But mostly we're angry that 18 months after a BART cop shot Oscar Grant, the transit agency still doesn't have effective police oversight. And until the BART board recognizes that it still has 200 poorly trained, poorly supervised,* armed officers on the streets — and that this shooting wasn't an anomaly, it was simply the latest in a series of criminal acts by BART police officers that led to the deaths of innocent people — and until the BART Board starts treating this like the emergency that it is, the problems are going to continue.

There are elements of this case that are historic — and very positive. This is the first time we can remember that a police officer in California has faced murder charges for an on-duty shooting. That alone sends a powerful message — and the Alameda County District Attorney deserves immense credit for taking the case to trial. And let's not forget: Johannes Mehserle was, in fact, convicted. With the additional penalties for using a handgun, he could wind up with a sentence of more than 10 years.

Much of that is now in the hands of Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry, who will sentence Mehserle later this summer. The judge in an involuntary manslaughter case has considerable discretion; he could, conceivably, sentence Mehserle to probation, and the killer of an unarmed man could walk away with no jail time at all. Perry could sentence him to five years (of which the former officer would probably serve no more than three). He could also go as high as 14 years, which seems more reasonable.

Most of the protesters in Oakland were peaceful; most recognized that the verdict was mixed, that at least Mehserle was convicted, and that there's still a chance justice will be done. It's hard to imagine that the patience of the community will last long in the wake of an unacceptably short sentence.

But even if Perry issues a sentence that reflects the crime, there's still the problem of the BART Police. This isn't the first time a BART cop has killed an unarmed person; twice before, the subway system's finest have committed crimes just as heinous as the one that put Johannes Mehserle in the dock. The difference is that the previous shootings — which we covered in depth and the mainstream media ignored — were never caught on video. BART never took either killing seriously, never changed police oversight procedures — and shouldn't be surprised that nothing changed.

Now the agency, with much reluctance and gnashing of teeth, has created a modest civilian oversight program. But it's not enough — and the reason is simple: The BART directors don't want to spend the time it takes to monitor and control an armed police force. They've always happily delegated that job to someone else — a general manager, an assistant general manager, a police chief — and never done the job they were elected to do.

Now time's up. The BART directors need to take direct control of the police, including holding hearings on disciplinary action and quickly acting on complaints against problem officers. Or they need to recognize that they can't run a police force, disband the BART police, and let a professional law enforcement agency from one or more of the BART counties take over.

Comments

I’m angry too.

I’m angry that we have an entire generation of defective kids these days whose parents never taught them how to act like adults in public.

I’m angry that there’s an epidemic in the Bay Area of black kids beating to death Asian senior citizens for kicks and the Guardian conveniently looks the other way.

I’m angry that people that can’t even take care of themselves are reproducing like stray dogs in heat and then letting their feral crack babies run wild in the streets and expect the rest of us to clean up after their mess.

And you have to wonder how much of Oakland would have really cared about Oscar Grant if he was white.

Just another excuse for people to get full of themselves and their self-righteous anger. Go listen to those Mel Gibson tapes again, Oakland. That’s you and your self-righteous anger.

Posted by Mel on Jul. 14, 2010 @ 1:53 am

To call a child defective shows you think of children as objects and not beings.
To imply that people are reproducing like stray dogs is to perpetuate the myth of Black folks unrestrained sexuality which has been pushed since slavery, but is in fact, false.
To think that people would not care about Oscar Grant if he was white ignores the current reality that a large percentage of Oakland residents are white.
If there was such an epidemic of Black versus Asian violence, why wasn't Chinatown burned down last week during the so-called "riots" after the Mehserle verdict.
All of your alleged anger is just frustration built on mythology.

Posted by Black Hour on Jul. 18, 2010 @ 9:32 am

I completely agree with Mel regarding his perspective on the epidemic, and i'll go even further to say: PANDEMIC BLACK PROBLEMS in Oakland. Ammiano, just like most other politicians, kow tow and kisses ass to get votes while promoting and glorifying a dead thug.

Where were the outrage against the killing of the FOUR POLICE OFFICERS, who happened to be WHITE, from our 'leaders'??? Where were the protests against violence and killings??? Where were the Jessie Jacksons and Al Sharptons when a parolee who raped a little girl then gunned down four swat members???

Ammiano, as for your comments on a 'professional law enforcement agency'...do more research and be factual when you make such a statement. BART PD IS a professional LE. Their requirements are on par, if not exceed, those of other LE organizations. They must complete P.O.S.T trainings at a Police Academy just like any municipal LE agency.

I suggest you go and 'smoke' some 'cigars'.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 14, 2010 @ 7:44 am

Grant brought this on himself.

The jury heard all the evidence and not just soundbites.

And one mistake doesn't make a police force obsolete.

Time to move on, and for the black community to heal their structural deficiencies.

Posted by Folly on Jul. 14, 2010 @ 9:59 am