OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Protesters again took to the streets after former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle was sentenced to two years in prison for fatally shooting an unarmed black man on New Year's Day 2009. The sentence, the minimum after probation, was handed down by Judge Robert Perry of Los Angeles.
Anticipating vandalism, businesses in downtown Oakland began boarding up yesterday, including the Footlocker that was looted in a July riot following Mehserle's involuntary manslaughter conviction for the death of Oscar Grant.
Mehserle issued the following statement to Perry: "With all my heart I am sorry for taking Oscar from them. I do pray one day they can find it in their hearts to forgive me."
"A delayed apology is no apology," said Grant's uncle, Cephus Johnson, on the steps of the Los Angeles Superior courthouse after the sentencing.
In the Bay Area, Grant's grandfather, Oscar Grant Sr., told reporters: "It don't surprise me. I still think the judge didn't look at it with the full extent of the law. That man should have got the max. But there's nothing I can do about it. Don't let these people be the reason to tear this city up. Think about it before you make a bad decision."
Hundreds of people gathered on the steps of the Oakland City Hall as the police prepared for the possibility of violence by placing duct tape over the windows of police vehicles. Demonstrators addressed the crowd over a microphone amid chants of "No justice, no peace," and signs reading "Jail All Killer Cops."
One rally organizer told reporters, "We will continue to be here and hold our rally and provide a space for people to come and express their emotions. This is not the end. Oscar Grant's murder ignited a movement. There are more united now than ever against police brutality. We will not sleep; we will not stop and we will continue to fight the system that murders our babies in the street and gets away with it."
At a 4:30 news conference Friday, Chief Anthony Batts said the demonstrations had been largely peaceful so far. "We don't have a lot of activity in the city as a whole. There are currently 250 people in Frank Agawa square. They're peaceful," he said, noting the officers have already identified "a number of people we arrested in July. We are keeping an eye on them and have let them know we are in the crowd too. They are not doing anything at this point."
The demonstrations are expected to continue until 6:00 p.m. Batts said as long as the protesters do not "do anything outrageous, we are not going to move in."
However, Batts said it's more likely that any violence or vandalism will occur after dark.
"This is not my first rodeo," he said. "I've been doing this about 28 years. I'm not going to breathe easy at any given point in time because you never know the volatility of what might happen."
Batts added: "I hope they will be like the grandfather of Oscar Grant who said, 'This is our city and we have to live here afterward.'"
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