Little damage after Friday’s Mehserle protests
on November 8, 2010
Oakland police officials say there was minimal damage Friday night after protesters marched through the city in response to the sentencing of Johannes Mehserle, the former BART police officer responsible for the shooting death of Oscar Grant III. Mehserle, whose July conviction for involuntary manslaughter could have carried a sentence of up to 14 years, was ultimately sentenced to two years minus time already served.
Grant supporters began gathering in front of Oakland City Hall around 2 p.m. on Friday for a city-sanctioned rally that included music, art and speeches. As police ordered the rally to disperse around 6 p.m., protesters spilled into surrounding streets.
By the end of the evening, two Oakland businesses sustained broken windows and six cars were damaged in the wake of the protest, which wove its way down 14th Street and into East Oakland. Protesters uprooted fences, threw bottles and rocks and jumped on cars. According to the Oakland Police Department, 152 people were arrested in a residential neighborhood near 6th Avenue and 17th Street.
Oakland police spokesperson Jeffrey Thomason says the protest was contained before things could get out of control.
“There was definitely less damage compared to July,” said Thomason, referring to the protesters who looted stores, set fires and spray painted buildings in downtown Oakland after the Mehserle verdict was announced this summer. One group of looters stole over $50,000 from a jewelry store, while others snatched shoes and merchandise from a Foot Locker store. After the violence in July, 78 people were arrested, and at least 12 businesses vandalized; the Oakland City Attorney’s office has since sued four alleged looters and vandals for damages.
“When you look at a tally of what happened on Friday night, the police department along with outside agencies did a fantastic job,” Thomason said.
On Monday, there were few remaining signs of damage along the route of the protest. A Shell gas station at 5th Avenue and International Boulevard was back to normal after its windows were broken Friday night. But the owners of San Huo Fine Arts & Sign Company on International and 2nd Avenue were still shaken up after protesters shattered the store’s windows. The broken glass is gone, but plywood now covers the storefront.
“I feel like we’re unsafe in this area now,” said the owner, Xia Sha, through a Chinese interpreter. “Most likely, the insurance will pay for the damage but it has affected my business.” Sha says neighbors have offered support and eyewitnesses have filed police reports.
Oakland Police officials credit the lack of damage on Friday to assistance from outside agencies, which included extra officers from Berkeley, San Leandro, Monterey, and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department. “We don’t have the resources at this point to deal with large protests,” said Thomason. “With the number of officers we had, we were able to move in quickly and make arrests about an hour and a half into the march.”
Some downtown businesses prepared for the worst Friday, boarding up windows and sending employees home early. As a precaution, students at West Oakland Middle School were sent home early. The school is located near DeFremery Park, the planned site of a post-sentencing rally that was later cancelled.
Those who attended the planned afternoon rally in front of City Hall were pleased with the peaceful response of the majority of protesters. Reverend Mutima Imani, of the East Bay Church of Religious Science in Oakland, organized citizen peacekeepers at the event, who were trained to defuse potentially violent situations. She said reaction to the sentencing was emotional, but for the most part peaceful.
“At the event itself there was no violence,” said Imani. “There were people who no matter if I got up there and did 100 prayers were still going to act out, so those people did what they wanted to do. I would say, ‘Mission accomplished.’”
Terria Smith contributed reporting to this story.
Read our past coverage of the Johannes Mehserle trial on Oakland North here.
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