UPDATE: I’m starting a list of Oakland businesses that were vandalized on Wednesday and will publicize this list next week. Please help me with this list.
Last night was a difficult one for me and I’m sure for many Oaklanders who stood by as we saw our downtown being attacked. A friend of mine, Santiago Wechsler, attended and documented the protest. Here is his story:
I’m not sure if you are all familiar with the BART shooting that occurred early new year’s day when a BART Police officer shot 22-year old Oscar Grant after responding to a report of fighting in the train. Well, a few days later a video of the incident went viral due to Karina Vargas who made it available to the public by posting it on YouTube and making it available for download. Other videos appeared after, and the videos resulted to be quite and explosive spark. Here’s one video, be warned because at the very least you’ll see a very tragic event. You will see Grant on the ground with an officer’s knee on his head, then suddenly you’ll see that an officer standing over him pull out his gun and shoot Grant in the back. You will also see all the officers jumped back in surprise, and the shooter, 27 year-old Johannes Mehserle, also seems to be surprised, he also jumps back, looks at his partner, looks at the body, and after a few seconds of inaction, in what seems to be stupor, they proceed to, according to witnesses at the scene, take the handcuffs off of Grant. A man in the background seems to protest as they do that.
Regardless of what really happened, whether Mr. Mehserle meant to pull out his taser rather than his gun, the fact remains that this video triggered widespread anger within the community. It is such a source of unspoken frustrations. Coupled with the announcement that the DA had not pressed charges, and that Mehserle quit his job with the BART Police to avoid being forced to make a statement, it set off a tornado of anger through the streets of Oakland.
It all started peacefully enough at the Fruitvale BART station. Several people spoke including the family of Grant. There were mothers with children and several young teenagers, many holding hand made signs.
It was a solemn affair, I saw a woman at the verge of tears standing next to me as speakers told their stories of lost loved-ones to police fire. And once in a while the crowd would chant “fuck the police”.
I got there around 4:30, and at around 5:20 a group with their own loudspeaker started chanting that we should march. They pressed on for several minutes, finally leaving as a group around 5:45. Most people stayed at the station, including myself staying until the end, around 6:15.
So I grabbed my bike and headed north on International with the intention of going to Berkeley, but as I got closer to downtown Oakland I saw several helicopters hovering over the Laney College area, so I headed that way. I caught up with the protesters on 10th street headed north. Things were different this time, there was zero police presence at the Fruitvale BART, but there were dozens of police cars with their lights on around this area. They were already stopping traffic and driving against the direction of traffic at fast speeds headed somewhere. We continued on 10th, but suddenly the crowd stopped at Madison.
There were a couple of police officers standing next to their cruiser which they positioned perpendicular to the road in order to stop traffic on Madison St. The crowd quickly turned towards the cops, little by little they became more violent, and started throwing trash at them. A guy right in front of me was the first to hit the car, kick it hard, and I immediately grabbed him back, reacting in fear of the line he was crossing. But it was all over. Right as he was threatening to kick my ass some one else threw an object at the windshield and others started stomping on the car. So I just stepped back and looked at what was going on. Check out the videos below, you’ll see for yourself, but it was a crazy sight. It was thrilling and sinful almost to see those people destroy that police car. After a few minutes the police shot off some tear gas and the crowd split. This happened a little before 6:41.
The crowd regrouped around Broadway, finally settling at 14th and Broadway a little after 7pm. This time we were surrounded on three sides by police in riot gear. We stayed there for a while. Many angry people were yelling at the cops, in particular a young girl caught my eye, she couldn’t have been older than 13, but she was going right up the cops faces and yelling the most elaborate obscenities I have ever heard in my life. People were venting their fury, I just hope it had some sort of therapeutic effect. Trash cans were set on fire and toppled over the street. A few minutes later, a little after 7:50, the police started to make their move. They rammed the protesters, grabbing some people to arrest. The protesters were forced south on 14th street, and they wreaked havoc along the way, smashing car windows, store fronts and setting a couple of cars on fire.
I saw a couple that while closing down a diner on 14th, a group of young hooligans stormed into their store and made a mother of a mess in a few seconds. The hooligans left quickly, but the couple stayed inside hiding somewhere until a few minutes later a young man armed with a baseball bat came to get them, I assume he was their son. The young man was so angry, yelling at the top of his lungs asking who had done this. Of course by then the culprits were gone, and his screams served for nothing more than to break my heart a little. The violence continued but the crowd splintered into different factions, and all that was left was a cat and mouse game with the police around downtown for a few minutes.
I decided to go to 12th Street because there was a new car burning over there, I had to go around a long way because the police had it mostly blocked off. It was definitely a smaller group there, and it may have been that these were the only people causing the destruction from the beginning. Suddenly and I don’t understand why, a group of the street agitators turned against other protesters, they targeted a group of hipsters on their bikes that were mostly standing by. They tried to steal a guy’s bike and when he resisted they punched him in the face. I told them to calm down, but as soon as I opened my mouth I had a group of pretty angry faces looking at me so I left in a hurry, it was already around 9 at this point.
Here are some pictures I took. Best I could do with my iPhone while trying not to get my ass beat. Also it’s my first time using flickr and I don’t know how to put them in order yet.
I just wanted to share the experience because it was fascinating to witness this sort of event first hand. I was running on adrenaline the entire time, and I was too enthralled to leave, I wanted to see every detail.