Statement of Kelli M. Evans, ACLU-NC Associate Director:
The shooting of Oscar Grant by BART police officers in January 2009 remains a tragic reminder of the need for serious efforts to rebuild trust between law enforcement and communities of color. No matter the verdict in the Mehserle trial, the need to rebuild community trust in law enforcement will remain. In too many American cities, racial tensions between the community and law enforcement run deep. Police oversight remains a critical issue in truly ensuring both public safety and public trust.
No doubt, Oakland residents and other people following the trial will have a wide range of emotions. Following the verdict, community members need to be able to peaceably exercise their First Amendment rights to demonstrate and to express their opinions about the ruling.
Any police response to demonstrations must respect the rights of the people to peacefully exercise their freedom of speech, no matter who they are or the reason for their protesting. It’s important to be mindful that violence is never protected speech, but it is also important to remember that neither the mere possibility of violence, nor the bad acts of a few, can justify the blanket suppression of peaceful demonstrations and protests.