Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

BART verdict: Scores arrested in Oakland after protesters loot stores and smash windows

July 9, 2010 | 12:04 am


Scores of people were arrested in Oakland on Thursday night as police tried to wrest control of downtown from looters angry about the BART verdict earlier in the day.

By 11 p.m., the heart of downtown Oakland was a mess. A Foot Locker was smashed when looters took off with shoes and bags of athletic gear. People shoved trash cans into the street and set rubbish on fire.

Men sprayed graffiti on walls and windows on Broadway; one outside Tully’s Coffee read: “You can’t shoot us all.” Large fires billowed out of dumpsters on 20th Street and Telegraph Avenue. Windows were smashed at a Subway sandwich store, a Sears store and the empty former office of Far East National Bank.

At 20th Street and Broadway, a crowd was overrunning police and throwing bottles at officers, so authorities released smoke to disperse them, said Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts.

At least 50 people had been arrested, and more arrests were expected, Batts told reporters at a news conference.

Just before 11 p.m., Batts said there were still disturbances along the 1700 blocks of Broadway and Franklin Street and the corner of Grand Avenue and Broadway.

Batts said there were probably about 100 troublemakers out of up to 800 people who showed up at Broadway and 14th Street after Thursday’s verdict, in which former transit police Officer Johannes Mehserle, a white man, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the fatal shooting of Oscar J. Grant III, an unarmed black man, at the Fruitvale BART station on New Year’s Day in 2009. Prosecutors had sought a stronger conviction of second-degree murder.

Batts described the troublemakers as “anarchists” who came to Oakland to cause trouble and not peacefully express their views on the verdict.

“This city is not the wild, wild west,” he said. “We will allow people to protest, but we will allow it to be done peacefully.”

Workers in Oakland virtually evacuated the downtown core after news broke that the verdict was to be read, and store owners boarded up windows.

The demonstration throughout the early evening was largely peaceful but tense. People held up photos of Grant as police looked on, equipped with helmets and riot gear. A sign draped over a light post read: “Oakland says guilty.”

As darkness fell about 8 p.m. and most of the demonstrators went home, a group of people dressed completely in black and wearing black masks moved toward police.

“It was clear that they were taking an aggressive posture. ... We started taking a number of rocks and bottles,” Batts said. “We then made a dispersal order.”

By 8:30 p.m., the looting began. People broke windows at a Rite-Aid drugstore. A California Highway Patrol car window was smashed, as was the window of a news television van.

Residents could be heard yelling at the younger protesters in the street to “Go home. This is our city. Don’t destroy it.”

The reaction in Los Angeles, where the trial was moved because of intense publicity in the Bay Area, was peaceful.

A group of people upset with the verdict gathered in Leimert Park late Thursday, but the event was so peaceful that even the police left before the end. 

The uncle of Oscar Grant, Kenneth Johnson, 48, came out to see the rally but did not stand up to speak. Johnson, who lives in Los Angeles, said he was unhappy with the verdict and thought justice had not been served.

He was, however, glad to see Angelenos rallying for Grant.

"L.A., Oakland, the same things go on both places," he said.

-- Maria L. La Ganga in downtown Oakland; Abby Sewell in Leimert Park; and Rong-Gong Lin II and Louis Sahagun in Los Angeles


Photo: Looters are seen inside a Foot Locker during a protest in the verdict in the case of former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle. Credit: Robert Galbraith / Reuters