100 protesters arrested in Oakland
Jaxon Van Derbeken, Matthai Kuruvila, Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writers
Saturday, November 6, 2010
OAKLAND -- More than 100 protesters angered by the two-year sentence handed down to former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle were arrested Friday night after marching from downtown Oakland into a residential area south of Lake Merritt, where mobs smashed about a dozen car windshields and a police officer's gun was snatched.
The marchers headed out of downtown after a peaceful rally outside City Hall, where as many as 500 people sang songs and heard speeches denouncing the sentence Mehserle received earlier in the day for the fatal shooting of unarmed BART rider Oscar Grant.
About 200 demonstrators surged into the streets as darkness fell, marching southeast to Sixth Avenue in East Oakland, where police corralled the main group.
Several in the crowd said they had been headed to the Fruitvale BART Station, where Mehserle shot Grant early on Jan. 1, 2009. As word of the destination spread, BART officials closed the station, allowing trains to go through but not to stop.
Police penned in the marchers about a mile from the station.
Dozens of other officers stayed downtown to guard against a repeat of the looting that broke out July 8 after Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and acquitted of murder.
The marchers had made unimpeded headway toward the Fruitvale Station until they encountered a line of about 100 police officers near Laney College around 6:45 p.m. One protester threw a soda can at the riot-gear-clad police, and within 15 minutes, the crowd had broken through the construction fence at a nearby park and made its way past Lake Merritt.
From there, demonstrators marched along International Boulevard, and then wandered the streets until hundreds of officers trapped them on Sixth Avenue between East 17th and East 18th streets.
As they milled about, some smashed windows in about a dozen cars and jumped on top of taxicabs.
The situation turned dangerous when a protester ripped the holster and gun from a police officer's belt, Police Chief Anthony Batts said at a news conference. The protester was swarmed by other officers and arrested.
One police officer was hit by a car - possibly a patrol car - and just past 7 p.m., Batts decided to put an end to the demonstration.
He ordered the march declared an unlawful assembly, based on the incident with the officer's gun, and at 7:40 p.m. police began arresting people. Within an hour, the street was cleared and more than 100 arrested protesters were being herded into police vans.
All the other demonstrators by then had fled through backyards or abandoned the march as it wound toward Sixth Avenue.
While the police began the arrests, the anxious and trapped crowd trampled flower beds in the modest residential neighborhood. Some lit a trash can fire.
One man confronted protesters after finding a big dent in his car, saying, "That's justice? It's anger."
One protester yelled back, "I'm marching, man!"
The demonstrations that began early in the afternoon, after Mehserle was sentenced in a Los Angeles courtroom, were supposed to lead to a march to DeFremery Park in West Oakland, Batts said. And that is where police thought the protesters were headed when they began leaving after 6 p.m.
"They went the opposite direction from what we had agreed to," the chief said. "Up until 6 p.m. everything went very well."
Some downtown stores had boarded up their windows and several businesses closed early out of concern over possible unrest, but downtown emerged from the rallies unscathed.
The City Hall rally and another at the corner of 14th and Broadway were peaceful. Rather than the incendiary anger of past demonstrations over the Grant shooting, the rallies mostly had an air of sadness.
Chris Hall, a social worker who lives in Oakland, was one of many urging fellow demonstrators to stay calm.
"We want to make sure we don't take out our frustrations on shop owners," Hall said. "They are Oscar Grant, too."
Outgoing Mayor Ron Dellums struck the same note, as he had before the July vandalism - and it appeared to have been heeded by all but the violent hard core who broke off at nightfall.
Chronicle staff writers Carolyn Jones, Will Kane and Henry K. Lee contributed to this report. E-mail the writers at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle