Spectator staff writer and photographer Abraham Rodriguez describes his accounts of Thursday night in the streets of Oakland.
The word traveled quickly around the East Bay Thursday that the jury behind the Oscar Grant shooting case was ready to deliver a verdict. The Major news networks broke the news around 3 o’clock in the afternoon and following the announcement, most employees in the downtown Oakland area were allowed to leave work early. The news stations showed overhead shots of the city jam packed with cars leaving the area hoping to avoid any fall out from the verdict.
Fredia Smith, an Oakland resident, felt that “the whole thing was like a set-up. How can you have no on there [the jury] of black?” she asks.
The protest was one of the stranger things seen in Oakland. There were as many white youth as there were blacks and Latinos. Older whites mingling with younger inner city kids. A band was there playing music, a man was throwing a football back and forth and bunch of college kids were cutting up pictures of Oscar Grant on the pavement. The protest seemed more like Oakland’s version of Lovefest minus the ear-numbing music. In front of the Tully’s coffee were speakers expressing their disdain for the verdict, an occasional “f*** the Police!” and people just trying to diffuse the situation.
The Mayor was nowhere to be seen and in front of City Hall a sound stage was set up. Music was being played over the speakers, Bob Marley’s “One Love” was being played and someone was even dancing, all this just 500 feet away from Broadway and the protest. To add to the surreal feeling in the area, the constant hum of helicopters rang overhead.
On either side the police set up a barrier preventing anyone or anything from spilling onto the rest of Downtown. As soon as nightfall started rearing its head,the crowd became wilder. The crowd in the rear not immediately entangled in the non-violent protest rushed towards police. A glass liquor bottle was thrown, and when the police barricade pushed up the crowd came running back. A Subway window was broken on video, the culprit posed for the camera before running off.
By now, the non-violent crowd speaking out gave up and moved up towards Frank H. Ogawa Plaza.The crowd rushed again, this time towards the Telegraph-Broadway blockade and taunted police there. It erupted and started breaking into shops, like the Footlocker. Graffiti was being tagged on the walls and Nikes and shirts from the footlocker were being thrown from the store and into the crowd.
A man nearly slapped a news anchorwoman as they got into a heated argument about the shoes being thrown. It’s unclear if she tried to take a spin on what was going on, but she clearly upset him to the point where he and another man got into an argument.
On 14th Street, the barricade of Police officers began putting on gas masks and other riot gear. They eventually moved in on the crowd on Broadway still vandalizing, maintaining a formation as a commanding officer from a smaller golf-cart like vehicle shouted orders over a loudspeaker. Those who got arrested were being hauled towards City Center, a mall of sorts with an entrance to BART.
At some point a bunch of younger white kids started spouting off anarchist messages and even tried to the rally the mob at some point. The smell of vinegar filled the street, probably from the tear gas, and to the right on 14th the remaining line of Riot Cops guarding the rear were being flipped off by a masked man.