BART Protesters Tell Their Own Story

Protesters tell us what they saw at Wednesday's rally

About 100 protesters were back on the streets Thursday night in Oakland, protesting the fatal shooting of an unarmed man by a BART police officer.

Police in riot gear shut down a main thoroughfare in Oakland after protesters tried to stop cars and threw trash cans into the street.

But the protests were calmer than the previous night when more than 100 people were arrested following a rampage that damaged about 300 businesses and numerous cars.

Also Thursday, the Oakland Police Department launched its own investigation into the New Year's Day shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by transit officer Johannes Mehserle. The following are thoughts from people who took part in Wednesday's protest:

Julio Galvez, Musician, 25, San Francisco

My friends and I attended Oscar Grant's (RIP) protest at the Fruitvale Bart Station on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009. The ceremony was enlightening and we were very touched by everyone's experience. The demonstration and those who participated were beautiful and peaceful, full of useful information and powerful messages.

People of ALL ages, creeds and colors attended, and despite their frustration with the current system, gave thanks to life and acknowledged the speakers whom were also very eloquent and respectful in their approach. I was a proud member of the Bay Area community yesterday evening.

Adriel Luis, Musician, West Oakland, 25

Like most of the people who attended Wednesday's protest, I stayed until around 6, right before a fraction of those present marched off and incited the "riot." I was with my roommate and her 7-year-old son, and there was never a moment when we felt like he or any of the other dozens of small children present were in any form of danger. 
Throughout the program, most speakers conveyed a positive attitude that was reciprocated by the crowd, and anytime a speaker said anything remotely scathing it was quickly followed up by a facilitator reiterating that this was a peaceful protest.  When we left we visited an alter that was set up near the Fruitvale station's entrance.  Despite there being hundreds of people at the protest, everyone respected the signs requesting that the alter remain respected and unvandalized.

Nzingha Shakur, Case Manager, 27, San Francisco

When I arrived at Fruitvale I was so amazed at all the people that showed to pay their respects and also to protest against the atrocity done to Oscar Grant and his family.  I want to point out that the rally was a BEAUTIFUL and PEACEFUL event.  It was also great to see that there were people of all colors and races there, standing together in solidarity. 

Unfortunately, a few decided to take that to the next level and that's when the "riot" started, which was assumed to be the progression of the rally though it was not.  I'm not saying there's never a reason to riot in the streets, but I felt it wasn't the time nor place.  We continued to march with the crowd and actually stopped a few people from starting other fires, but when I stopped and looked around, it was insanity.  Cops were wearing masks and carrying guns, surrounding us and creating barricades.  Some officers had the audacity to laugh and a few tried to put their hands on us.  Man, we are badly in need of a drastic change (revolution) in the way we think and deal with each other as a humanity…

Brianna Smith, Social Services/Non-Profit, San Francisco

I was in the march in Oakland on Wednesday night.  I have no regrets of being there, it felt glorious to see so many people: young and old and off all shades of colors united.  We were marching peacefully for justice.  There was a small group of self proclaimed 'anarchist' maybe (5-8 people in the whole crowd) who's anger took them to violent or destructive actions.  However, this was not the intention of the march or the message we were trying to send.   But its truly ironic that violence that took place helped attain some media coverage for Oscar Grant case.  Certain moments are solidified in my mind permanently.

When the cops began to make their first decent on to the "the angry crowd" which was really all of the marchers. Another crowd began to form where they had cut us off from each-other people from the neighborhood: children on their bikes, people in cars, folks just on the street all began to gather. 

The cops were trying to separate us, people were asking them "what would you do?" "Do you have children" The most interesting part about Oakland is most of the cops are white! And didn't give a damn what all these people were saying.  I think one woman in her car said it best when being directed by cops to a different street "What, you guys killing more black people?" Some laughed at us, some smirked and grinned. 

Imagine smirking at the loss of a innocent life? The only black cop was not even part of the brigade, he was on the side behind us with his cell phone out...capturing it all.   I think to show solidarity and to show that best was that the people of Oakland were with us.

They stopped their cars, pulled over and got out, beeped their horns and yelled out "Keep it up, stand strong, we want justice!". The violence was a reaction of fustration, it wasnt the time or place for it and I dont agree with it but I cant be mad a these people who were at their wits end because the law was neither serving or protecting us.  As is now..its us (meaning the people) versus them. Imagine the fustration when none of the city officials have said a word about the murder (Ron Dellums, the district attorney, the BART commission) had done anything to bring justice to Oscar Grants family.  At this point we all are Oscar Grants family.

Ruby Veridiano-Ching,Performing Artist/Youth Arts Educator, Oakland

I came to the protest at Frutivale BART station yesterday and was very proud of the big turnout of the Oakland and the greater Bay Area community. There were children, young teens, and adults all convening peacefully for a single cause: to stand up against the unjust shooting of Oscar Grant.

Before the splinter group headed off to downtown Oakland to start the chaos that erupted into a riot, peaceful community members gathered in solidarity, advocating for peace and an end to police brutality. I didn't come to the rally expecting a riot. My friends and I came to join Oakland in remembering Oscar Grant's memory, to gather and figure out how we can be involved in the next steps, and to be part of a peaceful protest. Most of the people there came to do the same; fathers, mothers, babies, youth, people who advocated for progress and were there to support each other.

I know that many people were not there to inflict violence or hurt. Angry, yes, but violent, no. Many of us demanded answers, demanded justice, and shared the same sentiments regarding the unjust shooting: finding a means to end police brutality.

Many of the youth there were community leaders and organizers themselves, youth who have a history of serving their communities and aware of social and civic issues. I believe this is the beauty of this city that often goes ignored- despite the violent and notorious reputation that Oakland holds in national media, this city harbors some of the most compassionate, culturally empathetic, and socially responsible people in the country.

It is unfortunate that the attempts for a peaceful protest became overshadowed by the volatile riots that occurred. It is with much peace and good intention in my heart that I extend the hope to the rest of my community. May justice prevail. Peace.

Richard Wright, Professional DJ and Progressive Blogger, 38, Oakland

I approach the crowd. They are chanting, "WE ARE ALL OSCAR GRANT."

I join in.and i light my white seven day candle in its glass sleeve.

Soon, I see people I know.

There are smiles and hugs, and also shaking of heads.

There are Korean drummers, lots of bicyclists, huge banners indicting killer cops, bullhorns shouting chants of, "No Justice, No Peace."

I notice that the crowd is mixed, but with a lot of white folks.

Some young white kids are in full black with hoodies and bandanas covering their faces. One is carrying a black flag. Black Bloc. "Anarchists."

They keep trying to set fire to stuff, and others keep trying to put em out.

I feel anger because I know that the media will racialize the unrest to not look like these suburbanites who use protests as an excuse to smash stuff. Not very radical seeming to me.

I am still holding my candle. I am the only one holding a candle. I feel strangely out of place and also that this is the most important place for me to be with a lone candle.

Even police have been smiling and nodding at me. Somehow, this candle has transformed me from being a racially profiled target into the one person that maybe they aren't so worried about.

A sista around my age stops me, says she recognizes me from earlier on in the protest. She thanks me for walking with a candle, and keeping alive what this should really be about. I thank her as well.

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