FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
From NPR News, this is News & Notes. I'm Farai Chideya.
A former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer in Oakland, California has been charged with the murder of an unarmed black man. Oscar Grant III was shot in the back as he lay face down on a train platform on New Year's Day. Alameda County district attorney Tom Orloff made a rare decision to file a murder charge against a police officer for an on-duty incident. He explained why at a press conference yesterday.
Mr. TOM ORLOFF (District Attorney, Alameda County, California): Murder charges were filed because at this point, what I feel the evidence indicates is an unlawful killing done by an intentional act. And from the evidence we have, there's nothing that would mitigate that to something lower than a murder.
CHIDEYA: The officer in question, 27-year-old Johannes Mehserle, was arrested in Nevada. His attorney, Christopher Miller, says he expects Mehserle to be clear of all charges once the night's events become clear. John Burris is the attorney for the victim's family. He recounted the family's response to the latest developments.
Mr. JOHN BURRIS (Attorney for Oscar Grant III's Family): For the mom, she's been very saddened of course, and she's certainly in deep mourning. And her response was, that's very good but it doesn't bring my son back. So there's certainly a large degree of elation relation in their family and - that this process at least has started.
CHIDEYA: John Burris is the attorney for the victim's family, and he is someone who is tracking this very carefully. For more, we have a look at protests in Oakland following Oscar Grant shootings, including one just last night. Some shops were damaged, many business owners are wondering what are going to happen next. Joining me now, we've got Reverend Eltyna McCree, she runs a clothing store on 17th Street, one of the areas affected by the demonstrations. Welcome to News & Notes.
Reverend ELTYNA MCCREE (Clothing Store Owner, Oakland, California): Greetings.
CHIDEYA: So there were more demonstrations last night. What is the scene like this morning?
Rev. MCCREE: Well, it's just like it was last Wednesday, a cleanup scene. Merchants in the central part of town, City Center, where the 12th Street Bart station is located, were hit last night. And of course, Wells Fargo bank and a number of our other beloved food - or places were hit last night. And you saw it, of course, on TV, you saw it as it was happening. So you know, it's just cleanup this morning, and our spirits are down.
CHIDEYA: When you say your spirits are down, that must be an understatement. I mean, what kind of conversations are you having right now with your neighbors and with other people who are in the community trying to bring people together?
Rev. MCCREE: Well, I'm literally - people, of course, have come up to me. The riot last week, the vandalism last week, centered on 17th Street, which is where I'm located. And I represent the South of Broadway 17th Street Merchants. And so I've been very verbal for this whole time. And the sad part of it is that they're asking me for kind of direction this morning. and I feel empty.
Yesterday, the protest, the rally, Darika Blackman(ph) actually called me about 3 o'clock and sent me a couple of urgent email messages that they wanted me to come up and speak, and they wanted me to say the closing prayer before they begin the march, which I was a little bit concerned about doing, but I did it. And not that, you know, I guess, my words wouldn't mean that much, but just the response that I got when I spoke, and when we all held hands and prayed, about, I want to say 1,500 people of all diverse nationalities, it was just a warm, wonderful, wonderful, eclectic mix of people. And we just felt so comforted by what we felt at that moment. And so to then go home and turn the TV on and see all of this vandalism, and with the passion that it was done, I'm just empty this morning.
CHIDEYA: Why do you think this continues? And is it a situation where now, anger is feeding on anger, and it's not even as much about the original incident? What do you think has happened here?
Rev. MCCREE: Well, I think that people are hurting, and certainly, a lot of our youths. As you saw it on the TV, it was a lot of our youths that were out there, and young adults. And because they're so disappointed, they feel deprived of jobs, they're deprived of leadership. And they're just angry and hurting, and they're just lashing out. I wish there was some way that something could be set up here in Oakland that, you know, I could play a major role in, in terms of getting with these young people and listening to them, and letting them know that we are concerned. Because I tell you, if we don't do something, it's going to continue. Every time an opportunity comes for them to be able to exhibit this anger, it's going to come out.
CHIDEYA: There is also a huge murder rate issue in Oakland, where you have some of the same young men and women out there protesting are also in the cross hairs, just based on the level of violence in the city. Do you think that there's a way to get - to turn this around, and to take people who may be violent protesters right now, but to make them realize that they really have to stand up for some kind of a non-violent protest that respects them as people who deserve to be safe?
Rev. MCCREE: Because for one of the things, I don't believe that the rally organizers, that all of those people that stood out on the green yesterday in front of City Hall, I don't believe that those are the people that are doing this. I just believe that it's people that are taking opportunity to display anger. And so we have to certainly be able to divide those groups, and we have to get to that group that's so angry and, you know, that's lashing out. And I certainly believe that that's a different group from the people that held hands and prayed with me yesterday.
CHIDEYA: Well, Reverend, thank you.
Rev. MCCREE: Thank you very much.
CHIDEYA: That was Reverend Eltyna McCree, one of the many business owners affected by the protest in Oakland.