Latest Oakland Protest Stays Peaceful, Almost

Vandals defy rally organizers when march ends.

Thursday, Jan 15, 2009  |  Updated 11:44 AM PDT
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Was it "Murder"?

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Oakland Protest Mostly Peaceful

Nearly 1,000 people gathered in Oakland to protest the shooting death of Oscar Grant by former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle on Jan. 1.

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Wednesday evening's protest in Oakland ended mostly peacefully except for some unruly participants kept police busy hours after the main march had ended.

Nearly 1,000 people gathered in the plaza in front of Oakland City Hall to protest the shooting death of Oscar Grant III by former Bay  Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale station on Jan. 1.

Attendees began departing shortly after 7 p.m., although a cluster of more than 100 people remained at the intersection of Broadway and 14th  Street in downtown Oakland at about 8:15 p.m., chanting and waving signs.

Police re-opened the intersection to traffic shortly before 8 p.m. although crowds remained on each of the four corners.

Dozens of people walked  together down Broadway towards 12th street, disrupting traffic.

Vandals broke windows in several businesses including a Radio Shack and a Wells Fargo Bank.

One man set a small fire in a garbage can on Broadway between 12th  and 13th streets. 

Police responded to the vandalism with tear gas.

The protest prompted the closure of the 12th Street and 19th  Street BART station at about 8:30 p.m., BART communications specialist Fred  Evans said. Trains continued to run through the stations.

Protest monitors wearing orange vests were on the scene throughout  the evening to diffuse tensions between unruly participants, onlookers and  police. Monitors said they were volunteering on behalf of the groups that  organized the protests.

"The protest has been quite calm and the organizers did a  wonderful job controlling the crowd," said Dan Lindheim, Oakland's acting  city administrator, around 7:30 p.m. His comments referred to the monitors in  orange vests.

After the rally, Lindheim remained at the intersection of 14th and  Broadway, monitoring the group.

Alongside him were Oakland City Council  members Desley Brooks and Jean Quan.

Nearby on 17th street, the site of much damage from last week's protest, business owner Gretha Hayes said the area was quiet and deserted. 

 "Everything's pretty much closed," she said.

Hayes said she only stayed at  her boutique, A Diva's Closet, to catch up on work.

Many store owners closed early to avoid potential vandalism. On  17th Street, roughly half the windows in a three-block stretch were boarded  from last week.

Earlier in the evening, speakers at the rally said they're glad  that Mehserle, who resigned last week, has been arrested and charged with  murder for the shooting death of Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man, when  Mehserle and other officers responded to reports that two groups of men were  fighting on a BART train.

But they said they're still keeping a close eye on the legal  system so that justice is done for Grant's death.

Bishop Keith Clark of the Word Assembly Church in Oakland opened  the program by saying, "We come seeking justice" and "arrest isn't justice  but conviction is."

Clark said, "We come knocking on the door of our legal system" and  added "you must prosecute this man."

However, Clark also asked the protesters to be peaceful, saying,  "We ask God that you will give us a peaceful protest."

At the rally, Councilwoman Brooks said, "I have no confidence in  the district attorney and I will watch him every step of the way."

Brooks led a group of dozens of community members who met with  Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff last week to urge that Mehserle  be prosecuted, She said the charges against Mehserle "should have happened  two weeks ago."

But Brooks also urged the protesters to remain peaceful, telling  the crowd, "Let's not give the media the spectacle they want to see."

Dereka Blackmon, the co-founder of Citizens Against Police  Executions (CAPE) and one of the rally's organizers, said Grant's mother,  Wanda Johnson sent her greetings and said "have peace in the name of my son."

Blackmon said, "All of the (Grant) family is watching today" to  make sure that the protest doesn't become violent, as did a protest last week.

Blackmon said, "There are Oscar Grants all over the country" who  have been shot and killed by police officers and said there are similar  protests in 15 other cities across the country today.

"Let Oscar Grant be the beginning of the end of police brutality," she said.

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, who was booed by a small number of  people in the crowd, said, "Let's come together to bring real change because  thousands of young people of color across the country are dying."

Dellums told the crowd, "Change is necessary and you have that power."

Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker, chief of staff Sgt. Michael  Poirier and police spokesman Jeff Thomason were among many police officers  who watched the speeches outside City Hall. Police did not immediately  confirm whether anyone was arrested during the evening.

After the speeches ended, protesters marched down 14th Street  toward the plaza in front of the Alameda County Administration Building,  which is located on Oak Street between 12th and 13th streets near Lake  Merritt.

Oakland police officers and Alameda County Sheriff's deputies were  in riot gear to guard buildings in the area.
 
 

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