Mehserle protests end with limited damage, lots of arrests
on November 5, 2010
Oakland’s streets are quiet again.
Peaceful protests turned into a night of vandalism Friday after the announcement of a two-year sentence for former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. Police officials said 152 people were arrested after protesters at a peaceful rally in Frank Ogawa Plaza stormed the streets of Oakland Friday night.
Protesters marched through the downtown area and into East Oakland, blocking traffic, throwing rocks, breaking windows and jumping on cars along the way. Oakland police officials say protesters also uprooted fences, threw rocks and bottles at police officers and destroyed the windshield of a taxi. One police officer was hit by a car near the scene of the arrests but reportedly suffered only minor injuries.
Police officers in full riot gear eventually corralled a group of protesters on 6th Avenue between East 17th and East 18th Streets where the arrests were made.
“You don’t get to do this in Oakland,” Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts said at a 10 p.m. press conference. “You have a right to protest, you have a right to have freedom of speech, you have a right to voice your opinion and discontent. You do not have a right to tear this city up.”
Friday’s events began with a 2 p.m. rally in support of Oscar Grant III, the 22 year-old Hayward resident killed by Mehserle on January 1, 2009, after a disturbance at an Oakland BART station. The event at City Hall included art, speeches and music. Police informed protesters they would be required to disperse at 6 p.m. An estimated 300 to 500 protesters then stormed onto Broadway and began disrupting traffic.
“We want to send a message that it’s unjust. We need to organize every person of color in the neighborhood,” said Nick, 23, a protester from Oakland who declined to give his last name. “We need to shut down the port to show it’s unacceptable and that the streets belong to the people.”
As protesters moved through downtown, a line of police officers confronted them near Laney College, forcing the march to head through Peralta Park and east down International Boulevard. The group appeared to head toward Fruitvale BART, the site of Grant’s death, but instead moved into a residential neighborhood on 6th Avenue where police surrounded the protest and began arresting protesters.
Residents in the area where arrests were made had mixed emotions about the protest. “I understand how people feel, but it’s a huge disturbance to the neighborhood,” said Meshana Valerio, 30, who lives on 5th Avenue near 17th Street. “It’s a nuisance to the community and officers who are here.”
Police officials prepared for the possibility of disturbances after Friday’s sentencing, assembling extra Oakland police and officers from other agencies. Downtown Oakland business owners prepared as well, boarding up storefront windows while agencies like the Oakland Board of Equalization sent employees home early.
Protests related to the Mehserle trial have turned violent before. On Jan. 7, 2009, protesters set fires to cars and trashcans and smashed shop windows in downtown Oakland. More than 100 people were arrested that day. In July, after Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, at least 12 businesses were vandalized and 78 people were arrested, including many non-Oakland residents.
Batts said during the press conference that he believed the unrest was over.
“I do not anticipate anything happening tomorrow,” Batts said. “However we will be prepared in case it does and we will have a response.”
Teresa Chin, Roberto Daza, Nicole Jones, and Ted Trautman contributed reporting for this article.
Lead image: Police cordon off a residential block Friday night in East Oakland, where protesters were arrested following the announcement of the Johannes Mehserle sentencing. Photo by Nicole Jones.
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