The glass had been swept from the streets this morning, but Oakland was still feeling the effects of protests that erupted last night after a grand jury decided not to indict the Missouri officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown this summer. Today, police announced that 43 people had been arrested, and businesses along Broadway were boarded up. The smell of the blazes set by protesters still lingered in the air.
Ten stores in total were affected by the vandalism, city officials announced, including the Smart and Final grocery store at 10th Street and Broadway, which was looted. At the height of the protest, there were 1500 to 2000 demonstrators. Law enforcement officers made 43 arrests, mostly for misdemeanors. Three individuals were arrested in connection with burglaries of Smart and Final, Police Chief Sean Whent said at a press conference this afternoon.
Whent said three Oakland officers were injured during the protests: most significantly, he said, one officer was hit in the face with a brick, and sustained a mild concussion. Oakland police had placed 300 officers on the ground, Whent said, adding that early in the evening his department had requested mutual aid from nearby agencies. 175 officers arrived from Alameda County, and later on, more from Contra Costa County. California Highway Patrol officers were present when parts of the protesting crowd made their way onto the 580 freeway.
Oakland police used one CS blast device, Whent said. A CS blast device emits a loud bang, bright light, and tear gas. Whent emphasized that the police department’s use of chemical agents had been minimal in comparison to the Occupy protests a few years ago. “It’s a delicate balance between overreacting and underreacting,” Whent said of the crowd control actions taken by the department Monday night. He stressed that the department’s “top priority is preserving human life.”
In a statement issued earlier Tuesday, Mayor Jean Quan said that property destruction and violence “was completely unacceptable” but that these bad actions had been committed by a smaller group of protesters. She said the police department had showed “remarkable dedication and professionalism” and that its tactics had “prevented people from being hurt and helped us to arrest more than 40 of these vandals.”
Quan then joined Whent at the press conference. She expressed sympathy for the complicated emotions that some Oakland residents are feeling in response to events in Ferguson, and for the “anger, depression, and fear that some young black people have towards the police.” She said she had spent the night riding with officers and asked peaceful protesters not to “hide” vandals. In her statement, she called on every Oakland resident “to respect Oakland and help keep its people safe.”
Chase Bank on Broadway and 14th Street was open for business today, despite several broken windows and the shattered glass on the building’s front doors. The Wells Fargo bank, across the street, sustained many broken windows and was under repair this morning.
The Starbucks on the corner of Broadway and Eighth Street was closed for business, and its ground floor doors and windows were completely boarded up. Down the block, the Smart and Final grocery store had almost every window broken and boarded up. The dumpster in the parking lot had been lit on fire, and still emitted potent fumes of burned wood and paper. The manager of the store declined to speak to reporters about the damage.
Protesters also hit Manifesta Salon, a new business on Broadway, which just celebrated its “grand opening” in October. “If you love Oakland and support small local businesses, now is the time to show up,” said K.C. Lutes, the salon’s co-owner. “The story people are hearing is not the whole story.” Lutes said one window in the salon had been broken, “by a small group of people who seemed to be taking advantage of the event to create chaos. The protesters themselves were peaceful.” Manifesta Salon was open for business as usual today.
The most visible vandalism Monday evening occurred after a large group gathered at the intersection of Broadway and 14th Street at around 5.50 pm. The crowd marched east on Broadway, toward Lake Merritt. At the Chase bank on the corner of Webster Street and Thomas Berkeley Avenue, two masked men shattered the window glass and tagged the building. Several other people set the contents of trash cans on fire, as well as pizza boxes, blazes which were extinguished by police officers on the scene.
Lanes on Interstate Highway 580 were closed for several hours by CHP after a smaller crowd of protesters moved along MacArthur Boulevard onto the freeway. CHP spokesperson Sean Wilkenfeld said today that officers were pelted by rocks and bottles while trying to keep the protesters off the road.
One CHP officer was injured when his CHP motorcycle was involved in a collision on 580, said Sean Wilkenfeld. “He was responding to assist with the protests. There were minor injuries,” said Wilkenfeld. “He was transported to a local hospital and he is expected to be fine.”
Both Whent and Quan praised what they characterized as the police department’s restraint in facing what Whent called “a really large crowd, and highly agitated.” But both also stressed that the department would not “tolerate assaults on our staff.” Quan asked that any protesters arriving in Oakland from out of town over the coming days “respect that” this Friday is an important shopping day for local businesses.
Mayor-elect Libby Schaaf tweeted after the announcement that the Missouri grand jury’s decision was “a miscarriage of justice,” and that Oakland officials needed to learn from what had happened in Ferguson. She wrote that the city needed “to adopt community-centered strategies to build and preserve community trust and engagement between our residents and our police department.” Schaaf’s office did not respond to requests for comment today.
Alameda County District Attorney spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said it was “too soon” for her to know about any charges for those arrested during the Monday night demonstration. Alameda County Public Defender’s spokesman Jeff Chorney said his office had not yet received any cases connected with the protest arrests, but expected to know if the office was representing anyone after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, was shot and killed on August 9 by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. The shooting of Brown sparked unrest in Ferguson, leading to protests both peaceful and unruly in August and September. Local law enforcement officers responded to several protests using tear gas and rubber bullets.
A county grand jury was convened to decide whether Wilson should be charged with a crime. The jurors could have issued an indictment on one of four charges: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter. If nine of the 12 jurors agreed there was “probable cause” to indict Wilson, the case would have proceeded to a public trial; grand jury deliberations are secret by law. Legal experts told The New York Times that “grand juries are ordinarily instructed to issue an indictment when there is ‘some evidence’ of guilt.”
The jurors were presented by Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis county prosecutor, with evidence including witness statements, photographs, forensic evidence and medical records. Wilson also gave testimony, which is rare in a grand jury hearing. The decision not to indict was announced Monday evening. When asked at a press conference about the decision to announce the result at night, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said that that decision had been made by McCulloch’s office.
Hundreds gathered outside the Ferguson Police Department awaiting McCulloch’s announcement. As news of the decision spread, media on the scene reported that some protesters threw bottles and rocks at officers and looted several businesses. Law enforcement officers used smoke and gas to control the crowds.
Sizable demonstrations took place in other cities across the U.S. Many protests had been planned in advance and were scheduled to take place regardless of the jury’s findings. About 150 demonstrators in Los Angeles walked onto a freeway, causing it to be shut down for an hour. Three protesters were arrested outside the Los Angeles Police Department’s headquarters. In New York, the Wall Street Journal reported, hundreds of demonstrators in Union Square observed a moment of silence that lasted almost five minutes after the decision was announced. Peaceful marches took place in Boston, Washington D.C. and Seattle.
At the White House, President Barack Obama addressed members of the press Monday night to say that anger to the jury’s decision was “an understandable reaction” but urging anyone who protested to “do so peacefully.” On Tuesday he said at an event in Chicago: “There are productive ways of responding. There are destructive ways of responding. Torching buildings, burning cars. Those are destructive ways. Those are criminal acts.” He said he had “no sympathy” for those who turned to violence in the wake of the jury’s failure to indict Wilson.
More protests were already taking place in Oakland by 5:30 Tuesday evening, with demonstrators beginning to gather outside the police department. Police spokesperson Johnna Watson advised peaceful protesters to notify an officer or call dispatch if they witnessed acts of vandalism or violence. “We don’t want anyone to be vigilantes,” she said.
Across the street from the boarded up Smart and Final, a store worker was hoping for a calm evening. “We’re just hoping that it stays peaceful,” he said.