OAKLAND, California – On January 1st, 2009, BART police officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant while he lay on the ground at the Fruitvale station in Oakland. Within a month, numerous protests and riots broke out throughout Oakland demanding justice for Oscar Grant. After a year and 6-months, the historic trial of Mehserle for the murder of Grant commenced. However, the trial was ridden with bias and favor for the former BART officer. On July 8th, 2010, a verdict from the trial was announced; Mehserle was charged with involuntary manslaughter.
On the day of the verdict, some 2000 activists, community members, youth to elderly, gathered at 14th and broadway in downtown Oakland, some as early as 5pm, while the main rally began at 6pm. As several helicopters buzzed overhead, the crowd swelled at three intersections all along broadway at 12th, 13th, and 14th st. At 12th and broadway, hundreds of police surrounded protesters, at the next intersection a street orchestra played music with chants demanding justice as even more police looked on, and at 14th and broadway activists from non-profits and some community members took the stage. Dozens of speakers went up to the mic, all proclaiming the unsettled feeling the so-called justice system invoked that day by what seemed to be just a half empty gesture at any sort of real justice. Many spoke to the crowd about peace, disturbingly merging property destruction with violence, assault with self-defense in the rhetoric they used to control the crowd. While some of the crowd surrounded the audio system, much of the people talked amongst themselves as the blasting voices of rightfully outraged speakers were lost in the dense mass of bodies. Some were able to hang a large banner reading “OAKLAND SAYS GUILTY”, and others migrated from 12th to 14th and back again, looking for the crowd they belonged in. No one knew what to do, no one knew how to express their distress. Those speakers attempting to manipulate the crowd, and the activists attempting to quell and police the “unruly youth” were unable to provide a reason, or an alternative, or an analysis that was capable of satisfying a mass of people swept away by the injustice they sought to amend.
As the rally ended and the sound system removed, only a handful of people left the area. For nearly an hour, the crowd remained confused and unsure what the next step was. People milled about, discussing what had happened, reacquainting themselves with friends, and figuring out what to do. Much of the sentiment in the crowd seemed to wish a march or a collective escape from the intersections. Instead we stood around, as police forces continued to encircle the crowd. Eventually the crowd felt a sense of rush, away from 12th st and back to 14th and broadway. There we stood again, dense as sardines in a can without a collective escape from the looming police. As the anticipation rose, waves of excitement and fear hit us. Those of us in the middle and back of the crowd near 14th st felt bodies rush past us and then forward again north on broadway. Finally something snapped, people began spraying graffiti on walls and smashing windows. The footlocker on broadway was smashed, but the metal security fence behind the glass held no one back; the crowd pushed through and the merchandise in the store was looted. The bounty was shared by all as looters liberated shoes and clothing and jettisoned much of it into the crowd. For the next several minutes, what seemed to be hours, the crowd milled around, caged by police with nowhere to go. Shoeboxes were lit, small fights broke out between activists trying to stop “violence” and the rioters. Slowly the crowd realized the encroaching police. Wall to wall police had surrounded the intersection; the 12th and 13th st intersections had fallen to the riot police and eventually a 300 strong squad of cops pushed through the crowd from 14th st. Much of the crowd dissipated, others sat in the grassy area in front of city hall adjacent to the intersection (Frank Ogawa Plaza).
Another half hour rolled by and the dimming crowd began leaving at a faster rate. A smaller contingent of about 200 people eventually broke off from the intersection of 14th and broadway, ran around the block, and ended up behind police on the north side of broadway (around 16th st). For the next hour, they smashed windows and lit trash cans and dumpsters, rolling some into the street. Eventually the police regrouped, the majority marched down broadway flushing out the remaining rioters, but not before a standoff began at the intersection of broadway and 19th st. Police had locked down streets parallel to broadway as well, including Telegraph and Franklin, but had not yet encircled the 19th st intersections. Those 100 or so that remained at 19th and broadway stood resolutely until street lamps were shut off. All that remained were burning dumpsters and the roar of a crowd. Some fled in fear of a raid; gunshots were fired into the air as warning to other protesters, and loud explosions could be heard a few blocks down. Only a few streets down other windows continued to be smashed, but the intersection of 19th and broadway became the focal point for police. The police boxed in rioters from either side of 19th st, leaving rioters only the ability to run north on broadway into a thin fray of police. Some appeared to be arrested, others seemed to make it past them. Within the next half hour, the crowd appeared to completely diffuse throughout the area.
Some activists are expecting the next action to take place after Mehserle’s sentencing on August 6th. More information available at oscargrantprotests. More videos: