BART consultants get first degree from community
on June 24, 2009
The BART boardroom opened its doors Tuesday night and community leaders and members said they feared the “top to bottom” assessment by an outside consulting group was nothing more than a public relations ploy by BART.
“You don’t know the facts as we know the facts,” Dr. Ramona Tascoe, an ordained minister and medical doctor practicing in Oakland, told the consultants, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, known as NOBLE
The NOBLE assessment team of eight began their review on May 18 and for the $127.688 contract, the team will present its findings back to BART on September 18. The study will include examining use of force, equipment, training and investigation practices and began in the wake of the New Year’s eve shooting of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle.
Earlier this month Judge C. Don Clay ruled that there was enough evidence to try Mehserle for murder.
NOBLE called the Tuesday meeting to hear from the community. The consultants held a similar meeting Monday in San Francisco, but few residents attended.
Many who filled Room 300 at BART headquarters on Tuesday were skeptical that NOBLE was the solution. Many, like Tascoe, believed it was part of the problem.
“I kind of feel like we’re talking to a wall. We’ll talk until we’re blue in the face.”
“We’re not stupid,” said Tascoe, who was concerned that NOBLE lacked the passion for this project. Tascoe said the meeting felt too much like a public relations event. “They think ‘they’ll really be impressed with black officers. It’ll empower them.’ You should be troubled by the fact you might be used, too.”
“Amen,” someone shouted behind her. “You’re puppets.”
Others, like Oscar Grant’s uncle, Cephus Johnson, wasn’t as steadfast.
“All you’re doing is making suggestions,” said Johnson about NOBLE’s upcoming findings. “It has no teeth.”
“I’m feeling the community. But I’m not feeling you,” said Johnson with a trembling voice.
Robert Stewart and Patrick Oliver, members of The National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives, are spearheading the eight-member team.
Both members made it clear that while they want to make sure the Oscar Grant killing is the last one to occur at a BART station, they aren’t conducting an investigation on that incident particularly.
“We’re not here to answer BART’s strategy in the past,” said Stewart. “We are here to set the stage for a further discussion to set up a relationship between BART and the community.”
Patrick Oliver picked up a black marker and displayed a white tablet of paper where he would take notes of the publics comments.
As speakers came up, Oliver began to put pen to paper:
“1. Bart Police Department does not have proper training for control of crowds.”
“2. Bart Police Department needs to have more integrity.”
Many speakers in attendance suggested various solutions for improvement, from suggestion cards outside of every train station to a complete disarmament of BART Police Officers.
“Unless I’m looking for a job or train schedule, I’m not going to BART web site,” said Keith Muhammad, a minister of the Nation of Islam in Oakland, on sending complaints to BART via the internet.
“Why do they need weapons? I can see if we were a bank but we’re talking about people putting $3 and some change,” said Muhammad.
While most civic meetings limit speakers to two minutes, speakers were not constrained by time. Emotion, however, was another matter.
Only the loud voices of speakers came out of the boardroom, with an echo of a sharpie rolling on white paper and, periodically the rip of a new sheet.
“Those are your talking points. That’s not from us,” said Tascoe. She went to the front of the board room and dismissed Oliver from his duties. She picked up a red sharpie and began to start taking notes.
The notes came fast and furious:
“Inappropriate / failure to respond / Uncle Toms.”
“NOBLE spends the money the way they want to spend the money,” said Linton Johnson, BART Chief Spokesperson. “It’s up to NOBLE. How they spend that money is their proprietary information.” According to Johnson, seven other firms were considered to do a thourough report of the popular public transportation agency but declined to state which firms were in consideration.
The money is coming from the general fund. Many in attendance took exception to what they perceived to be large amounts of money. According to Johnson, NOBLE is accountable to BART directors but speakers in last night’s meeting believed responsibility towards the community has been lacking.
“I hope this meeting wasn’t just to blow off some steam,” said Cameron Sturdevant, who also appeared at a previous meeting two days in the Mission District.
“We’re going to take our time and do it right,” said Oliver.
“BART has hired you to cushion themselves from us. It’s the way the system works. They have pinned us against each other,” said Johnson.
“Much of NOBLE’s work is about community engagement,” said Stewart. “We are not in a position to investigate what might be a criminal activity.”
This is an opportunity to take at this organization and put it in touch with the community it serves because that’s what we think we’re good at.
We might not be perfect. We might not be right.”
Desley Brooks, councilmember, came in late. She jumped at the front of the room. “Whether they look like us or not,” said Brooks referring to Stewart and Patrick, “we can’t give them our faith. I still haven’t heard what they would do to BART. The culture of the organization is so out of whack it’s unbelievable.”
By the end of the meeting, more than 17 sheets were hanging from the wall, all notes and suggestions from speakers, some in black ink, others in red.
“You’ll have to find the courage to call it what it is,” said Dr. Tascoe on the report looming this September. “Are you read to go down that road?”
“We’re headed down the road,” said Oliver. “Thanks for giving us the opportunity to go with you.”
“BART is your department. It belongs to you.”
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