by Alex Weber
Yesterday's much-hyped pro-Johannes-Mehserle rally turned out a group of vocal, feisty folks on both sides of the issue - and it mostly degenerated into a spectacle of shout-offs and personal slams.
About 500 people gathered in front of the Walnut Creek courthouse at 2 p.m. Monday, with Mehserle supporters holding signs on the parking lot a few feet above bullhorn-and-banner-wielding counter-protesters, who stood on the sidewalk and westbound lane of Ygnacio Valley Road.
It appeared that the majority of attendees were either members of the media or police officers - from Richmond, San Ramon, Concord, and other neighboring towns. PD were lined up in the street and the parking lot in addition to county sheriffs and Walnut Creek officers.
While a few demonstrators acting as self-appointed delegates engaged in short conversations of civil dialogue with those who disagreed with them, the majority of the rally consisted of shouted accusations of racism volleyed from one side to the other.
Predictably enough, the contingent of Mehserle supporters clashed with the anti-Mehserle crowd, who shouted to supporters, "Where are your white sheets?" and chanted such slogans as, "Justice for Oscar Grant," "Thousands of stolen lives," and "Murderer." Supporters shot back with "It's not a race thing," and "Move to Mexico - the cops won't bother you there," and they cheered as police marched back and forth near the counter-protesters on the street.
Amy, who withheld her last name, attended the rally with her friend Marie, who also requested that only her first name be printed. Both held painted signs that said "Free JM" and featured images of Mehserle in handcuffs. The women, who would say only that they lived in the Bay Area, said they showed up after they heard about the rally on the news and via e-mails from friends. Both Amy and Marie agreed that Mehserle should have been acquitted.
"We feel it was an accident," Amy said. "It was unintentional. The community is really hurt, but punishing a young man - that's not going to make anyone feel better."
"This isn't about race. It's not about a white officer killing a black man," Marie added, blaming instead BART's inadequate training. She also said the biggest issues Oaklanders should be concerned with are the city's drug and crime problems rather than its troubled police-citizen relations. "It's time to stop glorifying the thugs," she said.
Truck driver Lee Gray came from East Palo Alto to join the counter-protest because, for him, the situation "touched a nerve." And for him, it is all about race.
"The other side doesn't seem to understand how deep this vein runs," Gray said. "I've been around and seen this type of thing happen again and again. A lot of Caucasian people think [black people] are jumping up and down, always complaining, but they're not looking at history."