MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In Oakland, California, a former transit policeman was charged with murder today for shooting an unarmed man. The New Year's Day incident on a train platform was caught on video by witnesses with cell phone cameras. Those pictures have prompted angry and at times violent demonstrations in the Bay Area. Today the district attorney in Oakland, Tom Orloff, explained the charges against the former policeman.
Mr. TOM ORLOFF (Alameda County District Attorney): 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 is nothing that would mitigate that to something lower than a murder.
NORRIS: NPR's Richard Gonzales has been covering the story. He joins us now from San Francisco. Richard, we mentioned the angry demonstrations over the shooting. Lots of people have been calling for the officer's arrest. So what's finally happened?
RICHARD GONZALES: Well, 27-year-old Johannes Mehserle was arrested last night on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe about four hours from here. Now, he had left the state fearing for his safety. He is not believed to have been trying to hide or to run, but word had circulated that he had - he left after receiving death threats. Mehserle quit the police force of the Bay Area Rapid Transit rather than answer any questions from Internal Affairs about the incident leading to the death of Oscar Grant. Mehserle is now back on his way to the San Francisco Bay Area, and he will be arraigned tomorrow.
NORRIS: I want to take you back to that incident involving Oscar Grant. Remind us what happened on that train platform on New Year's Day.
GONZALES: Well, Grant, he was a 22-year-old supermarket worker. He was with some friends returning to Oakland from San Francisco early New Year's Day. There were reports of a fight between two different groups. He apparently was among that group of one of the groups of young men. They were subdued by police. They were sitting down. And there are videos of the action showing Grant being pushed faced down. Officer Mehserle has his knee in Grant's back. Then the officer rises, pulls out his gun, and shoots Grant in the back.
The officer, according to the video, looks momentarily stunned. And all this was captured, as they say, on cell phone video and viewed by hundreds of thousands of people on the Internet. And in fact, had it not been for the distribution of this video, many here in the Bay Area believe that this investigation may have taken a very different turn.
NORRIS: Now, we mentioned the angry demonstration, the violence in the streets. Some of that seems to have calmed down. But it appears that the racial tensions that have flared up continue.
GONZALES: Well, you know, there is a long history of tense relations between the police and Oakland's black community, and there have been several emotional community meetings. The BART Board of Directors has been listening to public comment. And by the way, the board has issued a public apology to Grant's family. But there is certainly a chill, an abrupt awareness that just as a community is set to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama, this happens - another black man killed by police. And I've heard it said dozens of times. Basically, this brings us back to reality.
NORRIS: We saw the demonstrations last week. What are they doing in the city, particularly the police department, to prevent that kind of thing from happening again?
GONZALES: Tonight there is an action set for City Hall. Community and labor groups are in charge of this action. They have been working with the police to try to prevent more violence. And they're basically hoping for the best.
NORRIS: That's NPR's Richard Gonzales. Thanks so much, Richard.
GONZALES: Thank you.
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