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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.
Posted in Local
Posted on 09 July 2010.
Oscar Grant was a resident of Hayward attending Mt. Eden High School at one point. Eventually Grant became a stereotype of just another young black man with a record in Alameda County. What started out as a new years BART ride home turned into a Bay Area wide disappointment in the system.
For those who don’t recall Oscar Grant was unarmed and shot in the back “accidently” by BART officer Johannes Mehserle New Years morning 2009.The past 18 months have been a rollercoaster of events and emotions following that early morning at Fruitvale BART station.
The events following Thursday afternoon’s announcement that the Mehserle trial had a verdict resonated around the Bay Area. There was a conflict of actions. Thousands fled the city of Oakland early in anticipation of rioting and looting. While hundreds more headed into Oakland to prepare for a protest, some for rioting. Hundreds gathered around the court house and when the verdict of involuntary manslaughter was announced and outcry of detest and anger was felt through the crowds.
Many people immediately stepped up in front of the crowd preaching peace and praying for a civil protest through the streets. Oscar Grants aunt, Yolanda spoke with tears “This is not justice, what am I going to tell my niece when she gets older.” These feelings of deep sadness spread across the state.
Protesters were present not only out on the streets of Oakland but out by the court house in Los Angeles where the court case took place.
Oakland was prepared for this inevitable conclusion to the Mehserle trial, weeks before a verdict was reached it was known that the police would get notice of the verdict in advance to prepare and notify local business if any action would need to be taken. A little before 3 p.m. Thursday business and city services around the Oakland area were notified that a verdict had been reached and should close up shop early. Many businesses didn’t want to risk it and decided to board up their shop windows. This may have seemed extreme but considering the damage caused after the Oscar Grant shooting that was caused by peaceful protesters who soon turned into violent rioters.
By 4 p.m. Thursday Broadway started to fill will protesters holding signs and flyers some wearing signs on the back of their shirts that said “don’t shoot me”. The energy of the crowd though angered was relatively calm. Many local groups had organized various opportunities for the public to express themselves in a non violent way in front of an audience. Stages and microphones were open for speakers.
As the evening began the number of people grew but still remained peaceful, it wasn’t until after nightfall when people who were mad or simply needed a reason to vent their anger took to the streets in a violent way. A footlocker and beauty supply store was broken into and looters were present. People were throwing things at the riot police who showed up just before night fall.
The police did quickly squelch the disturbance arresting just under 100 people. But the damage has been done and police were having difficulties dispersing the crowds after the violent outburst.
The streets of Oakland are now left with a mess to clean up and many business owners who didn’t board up their windows will have wish they did. Those who boarded their windows are surely relieved.
It is highly unlikely that the anger and uprising of the public from last night is over with. IN less than a month on August 6 Mehserle will have a hearing to determine his sentencing. There is speculation on whether or not the court will attach a higher sentence due to the use of a gun in the crime. Mehserle could serve any where from 4 years to 14 years.
Friday, August 6 Oakland may have another protest on its hands if Mehserle is not sentenced to the public’s liking. Till then things seem to be calm in Oakland during the daylight hours.
—-Stay tuned for more news updates
Posted in News