NBC Bay Area
News helicopters and hundreds of police watch their every move.
Hundreds of people took to the streets of Oakland Friday night in reaction to the sentencing of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle for the slaying of an unarmed man almost two years ago.
Police arrested 152 people by the end of the night.
Police Chief Anthony Batts said he intended to let Oakland residents voice their opinions about Judge Robert Perry's decision to send Mehserle to prison for two years. But he said police were prepared to respond if things get out of hand like they did in July riots after the verdict of involuntary manslaughter was announced.
"This is not my first rodeo," he said. "I've been doing this for 28 years. I lived through Rodney King and I learned from those mistakes and experiences."
Several hundred Grant supporters began marching towards Fruitvale BART station, where Grant was slain, around 6:15 p.m. in what appeared to be a peaceful walk. Batts later said the group went in the opposite direction than the agreed upon plan. That was the start of the end for the protesters.
From there, Batts said some violence broke out, including broken windshields, shattered office windows, and an officer was hit by a car, which he said was probably an accident. Demonstrators threw bottles, rocks and firecrackers at police, according to Batts.
The circumstance that crossed the line, according to Batts, was when a gun was taken from an officer's holster. The gun was then pointed at the officer for a time before fellow officers were able to come in and arrest the suspect, according to Batts.
Batts said he ordered his officers to stop the demonstrators at 6th and E. 17th following that because he said the group was no longer a legal assembly. "Is it out of control? No," he said. "Did it take us time to flank them? Yes it did."
Police in riot gear squared off with the remaining protesters and arrested those who refused the order to leave.
Batts said although he was disappointed with the actions of the protesters, who he said his agency "bent over backwards" to help, he considered the night a successful one. He said he was not going to allow people to take advantage of Oakland, a city he said was already hurting.
BART officials said there is a police line waiting at the Fruitvale station in case there was any intention by protesters to shut down the platform where Grant was shot. That did not happen.
Mayor Ron Dellums urged calm and encouraged shop owners in downtown Oakland to go on with business as usual. Many businesses, including Oakland City Hall, ignore that recommendation and shut down early Friday afternoon.
There were at least two major events planned in downtown Oakland Friday night that happened as scheduled. One was an event at the Fox Theater. The other was an art walk.
Protesters began gathering in Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland just hours after the verdict and Batts said the city had been calm for the most part in the early hours. In fact quieter than a normal Friday night but he attributed that to the large police presence in downtown Oakland.
Batts said officers from across the Bay Area are scattered around Oakland ready to respond if anything happens.
But not all of those officers are going to be easy to spot. The department has been preparing for months for a reaction to the Mehserle sentencing, including keeping some officers under wraps.
"We have a number of police officers as a whole throughout the city, deployed in many places where they are not visible," he said. "I don't want them to be visible."
Oscar Grant's family said they don't want those officers to have to make themselves known.
"They're gonna be angry," Oscar Grant Sr., the victim's grandfather, said. "You can't stop that but as far as destroying the city, breaking stuff and starting riots, that's not kosher. You got to live here. We got to live here. Life didn't stop when my grandson got killed. We're still living and breathing, so let's keep it that way."