East Palo Alto’s police chief will meet with residents tonight to discuss the New Year’s Day shooting death of an unarmed black man by a BART police officer and racially charged comments a former Palo Alto police chief made last year.
Chief Ron Davis says he wants to restore the community’s faith in law enforcement even though both incidents occurred outside East Palo Alto.
“Very few people distinguish boundaries,” said Davis, adding that such incidents “help deteriorate public confidence in the police and general police accountability.”
Police on Tuesday arrested 27-year-old Johannes Mehserle in Nevada in connection with the Jan. 1 killing of Oscar Grant on a BART platform at the Fruitvale station in Oakland. Grant, 22, was lying face down when Mehserle shot him, and cell phone videos of the killing have sparked anger and disbelief.
A peaceful protest turned violent last week in downtown Oakland, and more than 100 people were arrested for allegedly damaging businesses and cars.
In a separate racially charged incident, Palo Alto police Chief Lynne Johnson left office last month after making controversial comments at an October public meeting about a spate of unsolved robberies. Johnson said officers would be stopping African-Americans on the street to “find out who they are.”
The remarks sparked outrage, and East Palo Alto activist groups and others marched to Palo Alto City Hall in November in protest.
originally intended to discuss East Palo Alto’s 2008 crime statistics and other police issues at the first “Chat with the Chief” meeting of 2009 but decided the community needed a chance to speak openly with police about the recent events.
At the meeting, Davis will give an overview of the department’s policies on use of force, racial profiling and citizen complaints, as well as its protocol for officer-involved shootings.
There were five homicides in East Palo Alto in 2008, although one death resulted from injuries sustained in 1997, Davis said at a Kiwanis Club meeting earlier this week. Killings have decreased in the city of about 32,000 since it was named the per capita “murder capital” of the U.S. after recording 42 homicides in 1992. But periodic spikes in violence, primarily at the end of each year, suggest that “the root issues and underlying causes for crime still exist,” Davis said.