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BART verdict: Oakland damage extensive from unrest; at least 80 arrested

July 9, 2010 |  7:16 am

Oakland officials on Friday morning were trying to sort out the damage after serious looting in the downtown area following the BART verdict in which an ex-officer who killed an unarmed man was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Crowds of people roamed the streets following Thursday’s verdict into early Friday, smashing storefront windows, stealing merchandise, setting trash fires and tagging walls.

According to Oakland police, more than 80 people were arrested. Among the stores looted included a Foot Locker, Sears, 24 Hour Fitness as well as jewelry stores. 

As of Friday, officials said calm had returned, and BART service -- which was stopped at some stations during the unrest -- had resumed.

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.

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

Batts said there were probably about 100 troublemakers out of up to 800 people who showed up at 14th Street and Broadway after Thursday’s verdict, in which former transit 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 Jan.1, 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 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 equipped with helmets and riot gear looked on. 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 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. 

Grant’s uncle, Kenneth Johnson, 48, came 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: A demonstrator taunts officers in downtown Oakland. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times