BART case: As Oakland awaits Mehserle verdict, a push for peace
Oakland community groups are educating young people about the justice system and the ill effects of rioting in the lead-up to a verdict in the trial of a white former transit police officer accused of murdering a black passenger.
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In a phone conversation, Mr. Imani is openly upset with the media portrayal of events since the Mehserle shooting. Yes, midnight crowds overturned and burned cars, broke windows and caused violence, he says. But months later, thousands of people in the streets held vigils and speeches for hours without incident. Hours after the peaceful crowds dispersed, a few small groups broke some windows, and “suddenly all the media attention was directed at 'another violent protest,' ” says Imani. “This town is perfectly capable of dealing with this peacefully and moving forward even wiser.”Skip to next paragraph
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His story is confirmed by Youth Uprising's executive director, Olis Simmons. “If you look at the videos of that coverage, you find that this violence was clearly led by outside agitators because they were wearing Muslim scarves and beanies that our kids simply don’t wear,” says Ms. Simmons.
She says a group of outside agitators showed up at a youth, education and training workshop Thursday and were told to leave by the Oakland teenagers who were there.
“This is why we are trying to train our teens what outside infiltrators look like and why it’s not advisable to follow them,” says Simmons. She says 75 percent of those on the streets that second night were not from Oakland. “We are teaching teens that they have choices at times like these.”
Part of their exercise Thursday was to review the Watts riots of 1965 and those that followed the acquittal of Rodney King in 1992 – which were the most deadly and costly in American history. “Kids need to understand that these incidents only harmed the communities themselves, while putting out a very negative image nationally that is hard to overcome,” says Simmons.
Imani says he can’t believe that justice will not be served in the first verdict, but that several organizations, including his and Youth Uprising, are emphasizing legal recourses that can follow instead of violence.
“Another trial of Mehserle would violate the US Constitutional protection of ‘double jeopardy’,” says Simmons. “But these teens don’t really understand that the US Department of Justice can institute another trial for violations of civil rights, which is what happened after O.J. Simpson was originally acquitted.”
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