OAKLAND — More than 1,000 people are expected to march and perform a "die in" this afternoon in a downtown protest against the BART police killing of Oscar Grant III of Hayward, organizers said.
Leaders with the Coalition Against Police Executions, or CAPE, the central organization behind the demonstration, said the mayhem that followed their protest at the Fruitvale BART station last week was a spontaneous gesture that didn't represent their goals.
Those who join the protest today are asked to wear white to represent the peaceful spirit of the event, organizer Dereca Blackmon said.
The rally will begin with speakers at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza at 4 p.m., followed by a march to Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff's office.
Organizers have demanded that Orloff file second-degree murder charges against former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who was arrested in Nevada on Tuesday night. Whether plans for the protest would be affected by the arrest was unclear at press time.
The public outcry has been in response to witness cell phone videos leaked to the media that appear to depict Mehserle shooting an unarmed Grant as he lay facedown and restrained at the Fruitvale station after officers responded early New Year's Day to reports of a fight on Grant's train.
Once outside Orloff's office, organizers plan for hundreds of people to lie facedown on the ground and chant, "Please don't shoot," as Grant is reported by witnesses to have said to police moments before his shooting.
CAPE organizers sat down with Oakland police Chief Wayne Tucker and police spokesman Jeff Thomason Tuesday morning to sort out concerns on both sides.
The chief and department spokesman were "incredibly helpful," according to CAPE spokesman and Ella Baker Center Executive Director Jakada Imani.
"We understand it's their job to secure our city, and they understand it's our job to hold our government accountable," Imani said.
Thomason echoed the sentiment, saying police will display a relatively small number of officers at the rally to help keep the tone positive, but will have many more officers on standby around Oakland to "respond at a moment's notice" should anything go awry.
"We respect everybody's right to free speech," Thomason said. "We know this is a very sensitive situation that's going on. We don't want to inflame it by having a lot of officers out there. "... But, in law enforcement, we will always be prepared if things don't continue peacefully."
Thomason said police will be in constant contact with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office in case extra help becomes necessary.
Imani dismissed concerns that people will bring weapons to the demonstration, despite reports of a man being arrested carrying two automatic pistols during last week's protest.
"My sense, having lived in the Bay Area my entire life, is that in every crowd, there is somebody with something they probably shouldn't have," Imani said. "We are not concerned about that. It's a peaceful space, a nonviolent event."
Imani said organizers are also bringing in their own security force, between 100 and 200 people who will be "talking to people, reminding them why we're here and in dialogue with police," Imani said.
Blackmon, co-founder of CAPE, said the group will reiterate five demands in response to Grant's shooting. The demands she said CAPE will call for are:
Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Department of Justice has sent mediators into Oakland to help resolve unrest over the shooting, according to a memo that says officials will "meet with law enforcement officials and African-American community leaders in response to community racial tension."
Community Relations Service is a part of the Department of Justice created in the wake of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to assist communities experiencing tension related to race, color or national origin, according to Community Relations Service senior counsel Ryan Breitenbach.
The service is prohibited from discussing details of any case and Breitenbach could not say who was involved in mediations or even that they were taking place, though he did acknowledge the service currently has a presence in Oakland despite having no offices here.
"We have no law enforcement or investigative power," Breitenbach said. "We're a strictly neutral or impartial presence and never take sides to a dispute. Our goal is to reduce tension and hopefully facilitate resolution and moving forward peacefully in any community where we're called."