Dozens of angry community members crowded into the BART board of directors meeting this morning in Oakland to express anger and outrage over the New Year's Day shooting of Oscar Grant.
The public, along with several officials, demanded that BART directors set up an independent police oversight board and turn over its investigation of the shooting to state and federal authorities.
Grant, who was unarmed, was shot and killed early on New Year's Day on the Fruitvale station platform by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, one of several officers who were attempting to restore order following reports of a fight aboard a train. Video footage of the shooting, captured by fellow passengers and made available on Web sites, has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. Mehserle resigned from the force and refused to give an account of what happened. A lawyer representing Grant's family has demanded $25 million.
"There's a community that is outraged, there is a community that is angry as a result of what we saw on these videos," Oakland City Council member Desley Brooks told the board.
Every seat in the meeting room was filled. Those who could not get in watched from two overflow rooms or stood in front of the building at 20th and Harrison streets.
Thomas Blalock, president of the BART board, began the meeting with moment of silence.
"I want to express our condolences to the family of Oscar Grant," he said.
Blalock proposed that a new committee of BART directors be formed to examine major police incidents.
"They're very rare at BART - in this case a death that caused a lot of pain and demonstrations last night," he said. "Whether it was a tragic accident or something else is a question that the investigations will hopefully answer."
And BART may be forced into more police oversight regardless of what the directors do. Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) are drafting legislation that would provide more oversight of BART police.
Thursday's regular meeting agenda was scrapped to allow the public to address the board. Speakers were allowed three minutes each but many of them ran over the time limit and were not cut off. After three hours, the public comment session was still going on.
BART board member Carole Ward Allen called the video footage "horrific and very disturbing."
"We must learn from our mistakes and we must make sure this never happens again," she told the crowd. "I want to hear everything you have to say, you have every right to hold us accountable."
Among the speakers were black clergy members, NAACP leaders and community organizers.
Dereca Blackmon of a group called Coalition Against Police Execution, which had helped to organize the Wednesday protests in Oakland, said that the board "needs to be held accountable to the community."
Another speaker, who identified himself as Neder Bey, demanded the arrest of the BART officer involved in the shooting and told the board that if protesters "want to riot and tear up the city, I say God bless them."
Lawmakers propose bill for BART Police oversight
A pair of Bay Area lawmakers want to increase accountability and public oversight for BART Police in the wake of an officer's fatal shooting of an unarmed man early on New Year's Day in Oakland.
State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, issued a joint statement today announcing they'll introduce a bill "that will finally ensure an independent oversight body is established, public input is accepted, complaints and grievances are fairly considered, and responsible action is taken."
BART was created in 1957 as a result of state legislation, with governance granted to an elected Board of Directors, the two lawmakers note. But the board has not provided a proper mechanism for public input and comment on BART Police policy, they say: "Unlike the San Francisco Police Commission, BART lacks any real means for the public to air their grievances regarding police conduct or for an independent body that can propose corrective actions."
"Complaints and grievances against BART police officers have been investigated and adjudicated internally without any independent review," the lawmakers wrote. "This is a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house."
BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle's fatal shooting of Oscar Grant III of Hayward in the Fruitvale BART station on New Year's Day — witnessed by scores of passengers, and captured on cell-phone videos now airing nationwide — "is extremely tragic and disturbing," Yee and Ammiano said. "Although all the evidence surrounding this case is not yet known, the video footage is beyond troubling. While the vast majority of our men and women in uniform serve with dignity and honor, there is an unfortunate reputation that has plagued the BART police force for years."
"The taxpayers of the Bay Area deserve their law enforcement officials, including the 206 BART officers, to be held accountable," they wrote.