BART’s Violent Past

December 3, 2011

Political Theory

I was surprised to see BART’s name on the news the other morning so I decided to look into some articles and what not on the internet. What I found in a matter of minutes was rather interesting.

Yesterday, 5 BART offices were cleared in a civil rights trial related to a 2008 incident occurring at the Oakland station of BART’s transit route. According to the plaintiff, Kenneth Carrether, former BART officer Johannes Mehserle used excessive force and assaulted Carrether following a verbal dispute in which Carrether criticized the BART policemen. Apparently, Carrether’s car had been broken into while it was in the BART parking structure and that is why he was upset with the policemen. Following the alleged beating, Carrethers was hog-tied and taken to jail on charges that fell through. Carrether’s attorney also stated that Mehserle asked Carrethersif “he had learned not to mess with the police” on their way to jail.

The officers on the other hand claimed that Carrethers was subdued after he approached one of them from behind with his fists clenched and raised. Carrether accused Mehserle and the 4 officers that allegedly watched the assault take place of violating his Constitutional and First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.Unfortunately, the jury felt Carrethers was not battered by Mehserle, and that the officers did nothing wrong in retaliating to the criticism. On top of that, they felt there was insufficient evidence to prove that the officers did anything wrong. Maybe part of the reason there was insufficient evidence was the fact that the station failed to preserve videos from the camera at the station that would have captured the incident on film. Following the jury’s decision, Carrethers’ attorney said, “Had a video been there, justice would have been served.” Carrethers’ attorney also pointed to the make up of the jury, for what he believes was a wrong verdict. Out of the seven person jury, not one was a minority. In fact, the only minority on the jury asked to be dismissed early on in the trial… Carrethers is black. I know that is speculation, especially coming from the plaintiff’s attorney, however it is interesting to consider.


Johannes Mehserle

Johannes Mehserle, the accused assaulter, was the BART officer that “accidently” killed Oscar Grant in BART’s Fruitvale Station back in January of 2009. Seven weeks after the incident with Carrether. Mehserle said after the shooting that he thought he was shooting his taser gun, not his pistol. Well, regardless, he killed Oscar Grant. He also got off with involuntary manslaughter and served less than a year in prison. So, Mehserle was accused of beating a man excessively and was possibly saved by a lack of evidence because the station didn’t preserve the video from that day. He then killed a man seven weeks later and served less than a year for it.

Throw that on top of the Charles Hill killing this past July, and you see just how fast BART is filling its resume. The shootings and beating spurred protests in BART’s stations. In response, BART shut down cell service to try to inhibit the activists, we all know that. This history of wrongdoing may not be enough to force Mill to change his opinion of BART’s acts but it would most certainly be enough to make Malcolm X roll over in his grave. Looking at his speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet”, Malcolm X argued for African Americans to gain equality judicially through their power to vote. However, if they were still denied full equality, he argued for them to take up arms. Yet when they did stand up, arguing on behalf of a dead African American man who’s killer served less than a year, and another African American man who was beaten and arrested, BART took actions to impede their protests. Full equality was not being guaranteed, not by BART, not by California’s state government, and not by the US government. In fact, full safety was not even being guaranteed.

I find myself asking a few questions:  How has BART gotten away with these incidents? How have they not been reprimanded, shut down, or overtaken following repetitive violent and extreme actions?

It is dumbfounding to me that they have gotten away with these actions without repercussion. The least the government or BART could have done was to reassess or shut down their “police force”. With such a violent and terrible history in such a small period of time, I find it utterly unacceptable that nothing significant has been done to remedy the situation.

In other news though, BART passed a policy on Thursday outlining when it is acceptable for them to shut down cell service to its patrons… Well, it’s nice to see where their priorities lie.


Updated 12/14/2011



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2 Comments on “BART’s Violent Past”

  1. luniho Says:

    The actions that the officers of BART have taken in response to criticism have been completely inappropriate. In the case of Kenneth Carrethers, it seems as if excessive force was used to subdue an individual. The plaintiff himself claims he only verbally addressed the officers, without physical threat; even if he did appear physically threatening, as the officers allege, the five officers could have surely more peacefully subdued him. The fact that this was the same officer, Johannes Mehserle, who earlier killed Oscar Grant, only further complicates the story. BART is showing consistent violent reactions in cases that do not warrant such physical reactions.
    Honestly, I don’t believe that this constitutes an instance of dirty hands. These beatings and killings are not morally murky for the sake of a greater benefit; these men were beaten and even killed for no reason. This represents the threat of a police state, at least to me. When men may be subjected to battery and murder, with the perpetrator given the equivalent of a slap on the wrist with a prison sentence of less than a year, it constitutes a serious threat for the common citizenry.

  2. sbyr Says:

    I agree with the previous comment. Your post largely examines the suspicious circumstances of the most recent BART incident and also BART’s history of wrongdoing. Perhaps BART would argue that, while they have made mistakes, their actions have been for the greater good: the safety of their passengers. However, it’s evident that BART’s responses to these incidents have been unnecessarily violent. Thus, I would agree that this isn’t a case of dirty hands as BART mishandled its responses to several isolated incidents and the greater good wasn’t contemplated prior to these actions.

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