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BART Officer’s Verdict Raises Questions of Police Accountability

July 19, 2010

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Organizers of today's rally in support of former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle are calling for peace, but Walnut Creek police are on high alert. Mehserle, who is white, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man. After the verdict was read earlier this month, protesters who thought it was too lenient gathered in downtown Oakland, which led to rioting in the streets.

Rinku Sen, executive director of the racial justice think tank, Applied Research Center, says the verdict was disappointing, but raises a bigger overall question about police accountability. For starters, she says, police review boards need to be changed.

"They need to not have any former police officers on them, or family members or union representatives of police officers. They need to be independent of police departments. Otherwise, there's not really a point."

Sen also says because most people are taught from childhood to trust police, it becomes difficult to find an impartial jury in cases like these. While this shooting is a step back for relations between police and communities of color, it has opened up a dialogue that needs everyone's voice, Sen says.

"People who are concerned about this kind of activity among police need to really be speaking up, and that needs to include not just people of color, but also white folks who are not generally directly affected by the problem of police brutality."

Today's rally is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. outside the Walnut Creek Superior Court building.

Mehserle's sentencing, which was slated for August, has been pushed back to November to allow both sides to prepare for what is expected to be a lengthy hearing.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA