Tensions ran high at the BART Police Citizen Review Board (BPCRB) meeting on Monday as the family of a slain Oakland man attended to protest the involved BART Police officer’s return to active duty.
On January 3, Shaleem Tindle died after being shot outside of the West Oakland BART station by BART Police Officer Joseph Mateu, according to a statement from the Oakland Police Department. According to news reports, the officer heard gunshots before running to the scene, where he found Tindle quarreling with another man. Body camera footage revealed Mateu sprinting toward the men, yelling at them to raise their hands. He then fired three shots, striking Tindle in the back. The police recovered a gun from the scene, but it’s unclear which of the two wrestling men was holding it.
Based on the footage, the family has argued that Mateu did not properly identify himself as an officer, and that he left no time for Tindle to follow his commands before firing. The family has hired attorney John Burris to represent them in a lawsuit against BART and Mateu. The legal claim, which was filed in February by Burris’ law office, states that the other man had been shot in the leg by Tindle, but he had disarmed him of the handgun prior to the officer’s arrival.
BART Chief of Police Carlos Rojas has gone on the record to defend Mateu, calling him courageous for rushing to the scene where gunshots were heard. Two weeks after the shooting, Mateu returned to work. The Oakland Police Department is leading an investigation into the shooting since it took place outside of the station on city property.
At Monday’s meeting, the Tindle family arrived dressed in white, each person wearing a kippah, a cap worn by Jews to honor God. They paid homage to their Jewish faith, reminding the board members and the attendees that “Shaleem” means peaceful in Hebrew. The majority of the meeting, which was eventually extended, consisted of public comments from family members. They demanded that not only Mateu be taken off the force and charged with murder, but that Rojas be removed, too. If a speaker went over the time limit, other attendees would fill out speaker forms and cede their time to the family in solidarity.
One aunt yelled that Tindle’s death was a murder. Another aunt angrily asked the board: “What have you done so far?” One of his former teachers said, “My students are afraid to ride BART in fear of being shot or killed.” His brother, Karim Mayfield, fought back tears. “I thought we beat the statistics. I used to think we made it out, but he was killed by someone who was supposed to be here to protect and serve,” said Mayfield.
One relative turned to Rojas and said, “Not once have you sent my family your condolences.” A cousin followed up: “After we get justice for Shaleem—and it’s coming—then we want you gone, too.”
Rojas sat in stillness throughout the public comments segment—even when 7-year-old Iysis Levi stood, tip-toed, in front of the speaker’s podium. “I just want to know, why was he killed?” she asked. She then turned to run back to her father, who was wearing a blue kippah with the repeating image of a menorah printed around the perimeter. When no one replied to his daughter, Jesse Levi demanded an answer: “What if it was your child who wanted to know?” He then turned to her and whispered, “They’re just afraid to answer your question, babe.”
BPCRB member George Perezvelez of District 9 reminded the crowd that the board has to wait for the investigation to be carried out by the Oakland Police Department before conclusions can be reached about criminal culpability. “But in the process, we have to look for things that should be changed,” he said. “If there is something that needs to be changed, this is where it starts.”
Another BPCRB member, David Rizk of District 8, explained how community members can bring forward complaints about specific police officers. “Once the complaint is brought to the independent police auditor for BART, this board can vote on that and determine whether the officer violated the policy,” he said. Members of the family said they would move forward with doing so.
Cydia Garrett, the at-large board member, sat with her head in her palm during public comments. When it came time for her to speak, her voice shook. In between tears, she thanked the family and offered condolences. “I just hope that we can move this along as fast and possible,” she said. The crowed clapped for her. “That is humanity,” said someone from the Tindle family.
The family was also joined by members of the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), an organization that seeks to end police violence in communities of color. The group is advocating for Mateu’s arrest on criminal charges, and members said they considered his return to duty just two weeks after the shooting to be an insult to the family.
“Why when police officers break the law are they not held to the same standard [as civilians]?” asked Cat Brooks, co-founder of APTP, speaking before the board. “They should be held to a higher standard because they walk our streets with lethal weapons.”
Brooks considers herself an abolitionist, and she believes that policing will never work in communities of color. “The city still bleeds with the blood of Oscar Grant and Nate Greer,” she said, referring to the people who have been killed by BART police officers. “We still carry that pain.”
Brooks continued, shifting her attention to Rojas. She asked the board, “Can you at least make it so he stops talking?” referring to comments he has made in the media defending Mateu. The crowd cheered. “Every time he opens his mouth, he says something to harm this family, to harm this community,” said Brooks.
Tindle’s mother, Yolanda Banks-Reed, held her silence during the public comments segment and spoke at the very end. As she stood, her family rose from their seats to stand next to her. She told the story of her father, the first African American employee to work for BART. He served the agency for 17 years. “I’m so sad, but I have to speak,” she began. “When does it end? Does it end with my son? With every breath I am going to do everything it takes, by every means possible, to get justice for my son […] and the children that are going to come after.”
At the close of the public comments, Perezvelez initiated a motion to prevent Rojas from speaking to the media. Nine of the 11 board members voted in favor, but Cathryn Freitas of District 2 and Richard Knowles of the BART Police Officers Association and BART Police Managers Association disagreed with it.
“The chief of police works for the board of directors. If they want to control what the chief says, it is up to them, not us,” said Freitas after the meeting had adjourned. “I feel sad someone lost their life, but I think that this motion is a gag order. I thought we cared about freedom of speech.”