The National Lawyers Guild SF Bay Area ("NLG") denounces the violent, unnecessary, and wasteful Oakland Police response to peaceful protests on Friday evening, November 5. Police arrested at least one NLG Legal Observer along with approximately 150 demonstrators who were peacefully marching to the Fruitvale BART station, the site where Mehserle shot Oscar Grant in the back, killing him. The demonstrators were illegally jailed into the weekend.
NLG Legal Observers monitor police activity at public demonstrations to prevent police brutality and hold police accountable for misconduct. The NLG also provides legal support to those arrested in connection with First Amendment activity.
Hundreds of heavily armed police from at least seven different Bay Area law enforcement agencies swarmed through downtown Oakland and the Eastlake neighborhood Friday night. "The police surrounded the demonstrators, trapping and arresting numerous people who were doing nothing but protesting the unjust sentence, including one of our legal observers," explained NLG Executive Director Carlos Villarreal. "There has been a lot of media attention on a few incidents of property damage Friday night, but like we saw on July 8, the police action actually focused on shutting down the lawful political demonstration."
Law enforcement agencies cost Oakland $1.2 million dollars on July 8, 2010, when a similar convergence of police agencies flooded the streets of Oakland in response to largely peaceful protests. November 5's police actions were likely comparable, if not more expensive.
"To add insult to injury, the arrestees were booked into jail and held for 18 hours and more, even though California law requires that persons like these demonstrators, almost all of whom were arrested for minor offenses, be released immediately with a citation. We've been receiving many reports of arrestees being abused and subjected to unconstitutional conditions inside the jail," Villarreal said.
The killing of Oscar Grant ignited public outrage not only because Officer Mehserle shot prone, defenseless Grant in the back in front of a crowd, but because this shooting was the latest in a long history of police killings of black, brown, and low income youth. Police officers across the country shoot and kill an average of one person a day, most often a person of color. The two year sentence Judge Perry handed down added fuel to the fire because of the stark contrast between Mr. Mehserle's fate and that of the typical civilian accused of murder. No doubt, if the situation were reversed and a young black man shot a police officer to death, he would receive a life or death sentence.
"The NLG has stood up for and continues to ally itself with those who have been victimized by the class and race wars which rob entire communities of their lives, dignity, property and security. The police are the front line of that war and Oscar Grant is a victim of the most brutal aspect of that war. We call for transparency and accountability regarding police misconduct. Rather than more prisons and longer sentences, we call for real solutions to poverty, inequality, and violence," said NLG president Teague Gonzalez. "We applaud and will provide whatever support we can to those who stand up and show their outrage and to those who will continue building a movement to overcome the vast disparity of wealth and the racism so pervasive in our society. "
The NLG calls for the dismissal of all charges against the demonstrators arrested on November 5, as well as the immediate release of the individuals who remain in jail as of Sunday evening.