Oscar Grant Demonstrators Rally but Decide Not to Close Fruitvale BART

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday March 11, 2009 - 07:22:00 PM

Some 50 to 75 demonstrators rallied for an hour and a half in front of the Fruitvale BART station turnstiles on the afternoon of March 5 in continuing protests over the New Year’s Day shooting death of a Hayward man by a BART police officer, but the sponsoring organization backed off on its pledge to attempt to shut the station down. 

Twenty-two-year-old Oscar Grant was shot and killed by BART officer Johannes Mehserle while Grant was surrounded by officers and lying on his face on the Fruitvale BART platform. Mehserle, who later resigned from the BART police force to keep from giving a statement on the shooting to BART officials, has been arrested and charged with murder in Grant’s death, and the shooting has sparked two months of demonstrations in the East Bay. 

Thursday’s demonstration was sponsored by No Justice No BART, one of several organizations that have been leading protests or rallying the community over the Grant death. Flyers announcing the demonstration had called the protest a “disruption” of BART services. And while No Justice No BART did not specify in advance what form that disruption would take, an organization spokesperson had earlier implied that it would involve blockages of BART operations, telling the BART board last month that the group’s direct action could take place on the platform, on BART trains, and on the BART tracks. 

On Thursday there was no such blockage, merely demonstrators waving signs and banners saying “We Are All Oscar Grant,” “The Whole Damn System Is Guilty,” and “Justice for Oscar Grant” and shouting chants, including “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police” and “BART’s not safe.” 

Even Shamar, a representative of the No Justice No BART organization who led several of the chants during Thursday’s demonstration, said that, while the group’s goal was to “shut [the station] down temporarily, we stepped back, because we didn’t want anyone to get hurt. The police officers were too combative.” 

While chanting demonstrators rallied and waved signs just outside the station’s turnstiles, riot-equipped BART police officers stood opposite the protesters in a skirmish line set up just inside the station. 

While speakers from No Justice No BART appealed to BART officers to support the demonstration, telling them “if you have a conscience, you’ll do the right thing,” other speakers who did not state any organizational affiliation appeared to be trying to provoke the officers, leaning far out into the small space that separated the demonstrators and officers, cursing the BART officers and calling them cowards. 

A contingent of Oakland police officers watched the demonstration from a short distance across the Fruitvale Plaza, but the Oakland officers were not dressed in riot gear and appeared to visibly relax during the course of the demonstration as it became clear no attempt would be made to actually block the turnstiles. 

Demonstrators allowed BART patrons to slip through the demonstration line without hindrance to enter the BART station, and BART personnel let patrons exiting the station use an emergency door on the opposite side of the station from the turnstiles. 

Even without the blockage, No Justice No BART organizing committee member Christopher Cantor called the demonstration a success. “Oh, yeah, definitely, in spades,” Cantor said, in answer to a reporter’s question if the group had accomplished its goals. “The station is practically empty.” 

Cantor said that No Justice No BART would hold a demonstration during the evening rush hour on Mar. 19 at the Rockridge BART Station. 

Meanwhile, although Thursday’s protests ended peacefully, with no arrests, court cases continue for several persons arrested in earlier Oscar Grant protests. 

David Santos, a Skyline High School student and a member of the Bay Area Revolution Club, has a pretrial hearing in Juvenile Court Apr. 10 on two felonies and two misdemeanors stemming from his arrest during the downtown Oakland vandalism that followed the Jan. 7 march from the Fruitvale BART station to the Lake Merritt BART station. 

In other court appearances stemming from the Jan. 7 arrests, Lee Pang (cocaine and concealed weapons possession) has a Mar. 18, 9 a.m. hearing, Andrew Lewis (cocaine possession and felony vandalism over allegations he threw a rock through the window at the Jackson and 14th street McDonalds) has an Apr. 3, 9 a.m., court date, and Cleveland Valrey Jr. (the Bay Area journalist known as JR who has pleaded not guilty to felony arson charges over allegations he set fire to a trash can on Clay Street near the City Hall complex) has a Mar. 16, 9 a.m. pretrial hearing scheduled. All of the adult charges will be heard at the Alameda County Wiley Manuel Courthouse at 661 Washington St. in Oakland.