The relationship between Oakland, California residents and the Oakland Police Department has been difficult for decades. On one side, there are arguments about a history of corruption and police brutality, and on the other, a contention that Oakland, a city with high rates of violent crime and murder, requires a firm hand from police.
That relationship was further strained this weekend after the shooting deaths of four police officers by Lovelle Mixon, a 26-year-old parolee with an outstanding warrant for his arrest. After a routine traffic stop, Mixon shot two motorcycle officers in East Oakland and then fled to a nearby apartment building as community members rushed to administer CPR to one of the officers. Police conducted an extensive manhunt which ended when neighbors called 911 alerting police to Lovelle Mixon's whereabouts. When SWAT teams stormed Mixon's location, two more police officers were shot and killed before officers killed Mixon. The events of the weekend add to tensions that flared in January over the shooting death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by a Bay Area Rapid Transit cop.
Today a pre-trail hearing for Johannes Mehserle, who was charged in Grant's murder, was postponed until May 18th because of fears that the hearing would exacerbate tensions throughout the city. Some community organizations are speaking out against the decision to delay the hearing.
"This delay only increases the anger against police and the justice system in the wake of the recent killings of Oakland police," said Ronald Cruz, of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (BAMN), "The only true way the police can begin to repair their standing with the community is to prosecute Mehserle and the other BART police with the vigilance this murder demands."
Oscar Grant's death sparked protests on Oakland streets at the beginning of the year, as residents protested the delay in bringing charges against Johannes Mehserle. Now the city is planning memorials for the 4 slain police officers and residents don't know what to expect.
Some are hoping that this weekend's tragedy might lead to more understanding between community members who feel like they are too often victims of police abuse, and a police department struggling to heal from one of the deadliest days for Oakland police in the department's history. But 23-year-old Brandon McFarland, who lives in the East Oakland neighborhood where this weekend's shootings occurred, isn't so optimistic.
He said, "I don't think anything is going to change in the minds of the people in the neighborhoods...Somewhere along the line, police stopped being personable. They stopped knowing how to talk to people. The people who patrol, they don't have relationships with the neighborhood. If they do, they are the exception."