OAKLAND — Some of the city's political leaders held a news conference Friday at the Youth UpRising Center in East Oakland, calling for peace and calm after a jury in Los Angeles renders a verdict in the murder trial of former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle.
In addition, young people who attended — some of them affiliated with the center's programs, others from Laney College — renounced the use of violence as a tool for making a political statement in the wake of an unfavorable verdict.
They spoke before throngs of media and described an often tenuous and contentious relationship with police, saying the Jan. 1, 2009 death of Hayward resident Oscar Grant III on BART's Fruitvale station platform was symbolic — and a reflection long-standing tensions between police and area youths.
"This is the first time a police officer has been (put on trial) for killing an innocent youth," said Youth UpRising member Joseph Lamont Johnson, 23. "His case is a precedent for future cases involving these situations of police brutality."
Laney College Black Student Union President Jabari Shaw said protests are a necessary method for making a statement, but sometimes they go too far.
"We do believe it is stupid to burn up our own communities," Shaw said.
Bishop J.E. Watkins of Jack London Square Chapel told the crowd he understands the youths' concerns about instances of police misconduct. But he said he believes change can be achieved under the leadership of new Oakland police Chief Anthony Batts.
"We need to educate our young people to have better understanding of the police so that they will not clash anymore," Watkins said, adding that during the planned post-verdict rally — set for Broadway and 14th Street in Oakland — all of city's religious denominations will come together to help keep the peace.
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums also spoke to the crowd, emphasizing the need to stand together as one community. Joining him was City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Jean Quan. Both gave short speeches expressing the right of people to gather, but urging it be done peacefully.
"My great hope," Dellums said, "is that we will demonstrate in Oakland that we can handle this as a model city; that we can handle this with dignity, with respect and in the context of peace."
Black Student Union member Jevon Cochran, 20, said he hoped to see people on the street the day of the verdict, expressing their concerns.
"We hope Oscar Grant will be last victim," Cochran said. "The police are asking for peace from us, but we need peace from them. I don't like violence, but we have the right to come together to have our voices heard."