RALLY REMAINED PEACEFUL, BUT NOT WITHOUT ANGRY WAR OF WORDS
By Steven Tavares
WALNUT CREEK - Pro-Oscar Grant prostesters over-shouted and overwhelmed with numbers a rally Monday afternoon in Walnut Creek meant to support convicted former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle.
A brick retaining wall in front of the courthouse on Ygnacio Valley Road acted as the only barrier between a mob of vocal protesters and the smaller, more sedate group of around 50 Mehserle and law enforcement supporters.
The Pro-Mehserle group was made up of mostly older men and women and almost entirely white. In total, the protest which eventually closed the westbound lanes of the road, numbered close to 300 without any reports of illegal activity, but consistently featured fiery arguments between the two sides at times more vitriolic than the protests held in Oakland July 9 after the verdict.
A few Grant protesters using a bullhorn screamed "Murder is murder is murder" on a loop while a refrain calling Mehserle protesters racist was common, including one man who taunted the group telling them to "Take off their white robes."
The accusations rankled many Mehserle supporters who were far less vocal and chose to hang out far from the commotion on the sidewalk. "It was not racial until people like those down there made it racial," said Stephen Dieves, who made the trip from Moss Beach. "It was a professional decision made during the heat of the moment." Dieves attended the rally holding a sign reading, "Thank you, Arizona."
One older man Walnut Creek who chose not to be identified said the vociferous protesters were actually the real racists. "I worked in Oakland and I know how people like these were given job because of affirmative action who were not qualified over people like me with more experience," he said. I know what racism is." He also believes very few of the protester were from the area, but also agreed having a rally in Walnut Creek brought attention to city.
Included in the smaller group of Mehserle supports was smattering of off-duty police officers including Ken Carlson from nearby Concord who said he was supporting law enforcement but also said he understood the mindset of Mehserle on that fateful Jan. 1, 2009 morning. "As a police officer, I know he had a job to do," Carlson said. "He was a young officer and he probably didn't have more than six months training." He also said Grant may have been resisting arrest and that coupled with the typically rowdy New Year's shift made for a bad situation. "I know if I'm working New Year's night, I don't want to be working any harder than I have to," he said.
While not boisterous many supporters of Mehserle carried signs some said were inappropriate and disrespectful to Grant's memory and the family he left behind. One particular sign reading, "Mehserle is a victim of a spineless system" seemed to irk some protesters who mocked it as profoundly ignorant. "They think they're supporitng something," said an African American man who goes by the moniker Reggie B. "These are what we call good ol' white folks," he said while pointing to the gathering of Mehsele supporters. He later apologized for the stereotype.
An East Bay musician calling himself Waheeb and the Resistance faulted the Mehserle supporters for blindly supporting "white privilege" when the system as he called it shut them out everyday, too. "Some of these people don't see they are going against their best interests just for some bullshit solidarity. I don't get it."