Oakland Awaits Verdict In Subway Shooting Trial

As part of NPR's continuing coverage of the Oscar Grant trial, Youth Radio brings us this audio postcard — not from Los Angeles where the trial is happening, but from Oakland where the case began New Year's Day in 2009. That's when then-BART Transit officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed an unarmed 22-year-old man. Last year, the city erupted with angry protests, some of them violent. And now that the officer's trial is nearing a close in Los Angeles, Youth Radio's Pendarvis Harshaw, an Oakland resident, traveled to three distinct spots throughout the city to ask how people are feeling about the case.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Closing arguments are scheduled for tomorrow in the trial of a former San Francisco Bay Area transit officer. He was captured on video shooting an unarmed black man on an Oakland train platform on New Year's Day, 2009.

The trial was moved to Los Angeles after Oakland erupted with angry protests, some of them violent.

Youth Radio's Pendarvis Harshaw recently traveled around Oakland to find out how people are feeling about the case.

(SOUNDBITE OF BART TRAIN)

PENDARVIS HARSHAW: It was here at the Fruitvale BART station where the incident happened. Twenty-two-year-old Oscar Grant was lying face down on the train platform when he was shot in the back by then BART cop Johannes Mehserle. You might have seen the gruesome videos on YouTube.

Matthew Hubbard has. He's a math professor at a local community college.

MATTHEW HUBBARD: It's terrifying. This is - where was it? Like right over there? You know, this is a place where I live and it brings things home in a very scary way.

HARSHAW: From the elevated platform, I could see a freeway and warehouses to the south, a farmer's market and shops to the north. Latin grocery stores and taquerias are mixed in with Vietnamese restaurants and black-owned businesses.

ETOSHA MARZIO: We're just peacefully coexisting.

HARSHAW: That's Etosha Marzio, a tall man, wearing a tie, with a sport coat slung over his shoulder.

MARZIO: What it brought up for me was this fear of basically the police, like you don't know if they're going to be there to protect you or there to hurt you.

HARSHAW: Melina Guerrero(ph) is standing on the same platform as Marzio, waiting on the train headed to downtown Oakland.

MELINA GUERRERO: It doesn't matter what color you are. I think it's about us being scared of the cops and us sometimes reacting like we need to survive. And being misunderstood in a moment, you don't deserve to get your life taken away.

HARSHAW: Cole Coffee is five miles across town from Fruitvale in the upscale neighborhood of Rockridge. The College Avenue coffee shop sits within a block of a French bakery, a high-end restaurant, and a flower vendor.

Luke Lewis(ph) says it's a nice place to enjoy a cup of coffee.

LUKE LEWIS: Rockridge rocks.

HARSHAW: Lewis is toying with the idea of going into the family business. His uncle is a cop and his grandfather was a cop in Oakland.

LEWIS: He was like back with, like, the Black Panthers and Hells Angels. I don't know how great, but he was with racists. But he was born in Ireland, and he was kind of, you know, a tough-ass white cop.

HARSHAW: Lewis is on the fence about becoming a cop himself. He's not sure if he has the maturity to do it well. And ultimately, he feels some sympathy for Johannes Mehserle, the 28-year-old former BART officer.

LEWIS: I know he made a big mistake, but now it's all over the world and it's going to ruin his life.

HARSHAW: Madeline Sprawl(ph) went to high school with Lewis and is sitting right across the table from him.

MADELINE SPRAWL: I don't want to say like make an example of him, like I don't like that. But it's kind of like that it's not okay. Like, if that's the potential and the cop isn't going to be held accountable for that, then where's the line? Who has the power?

HARSHAW: From his barber's chair at Behind the Scenes Hair Salon in downtown Oakland, Damian Hunter(ph) has a panoramic view on 17th and Broadway. It's from this same perch. He watched the protesters shot his storefront windows after Oscar Grant was shot. Now, with the verdict around the corner, rumors are swirling and Oakland is bracing itself once again.

DAMIAN HUNTER: If he gets let off, down in L.A., it's going to be equally as destructive as the Rodney King riots.

HARSHAW: And as the clippers buzz in the background, Hunter's sentiments echo the thoughts of many Oakland citizens: Will the verdict bring resolution to an issue that has been like an open wound for this city? Or would it lead to more violence? Right now, those are the questions buzzing around Oakland.

For NPR News, I'm Pendarvis Harshaw.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: