Rowdy Protesters Return To Oakland Streets
Thursday, January 8, 2009 – updated: 7:45 am PST January 9, 2009
OAKLAND, Calif. -- A small but vocal group of protesters took to the streets of Oakland Thursday night, raising tensions 24 hours after a similar demonstration over the fatal shooting of an unarmed man by a BART police officer erupted in violence. Police in riot gear shut down Broadway and other surrounding streets for a time after about 50 protesters tried to stop cars, threw trash cans into the street and lit several small fires while protesting the fatal New Year's Day shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by transit officer Johannes Mehserle at the Fruitvale BART station.Officers in riot gear moved in to disperse the crowd and detained or arrested several people. But the protests were calmer than the previous night when some 120 people were arrested following a rampage that damaged about 300 businesses and numerous cars. Earlier Thursday, the Oakland Police Department launched its own investigation into the fatal New Year’s Day incident. During a press conference at City Hall, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums that a major reason a protest about the shooting death of Grant at the hands of a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer erupted into violence is that people lost faith in the investigation into the incident. Dellums said the community grew frustrated because of "a lack of communication" by BART and the Alameda County District Attorney's office, which are the two agencies that have been investigating Grant's death at the Fruitvale station in Oakland early on Jan. 1. City Council President Jane Brunner agreed, saying, "Protests go from being peaceful to violent when there is a feeling of not being listened to. It's important to communicate with youth." Dellums brought District Attorney Tom Orloff, BART Police Chief Gary Gee, Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker and other community leaders together for a 75-minute-long news conference at City Hall, calling it "a first opportunity to bring the players forward so the communication can begin." The mayor said the Oakland Police Department has now joined the investigation, saying Grant's death "should be treated like any other homicide in Oakland." Gee welcomed the Oakland Police Department's participation, saying, "I fully support this partnership." District Attorney Tom Orloff drew groans from the many non-reporters who attended the packed news conference when he said the investigation probably will take two more weeks. Orloff said, "I know people are not happy about that and there's a large degree of anger and emotion in the community, but people need to be re-interviewed and a criminal case is not a simple as people think." He said he wants to conduct "a thorough, thoughtful and objective investigation" and have a case that's ready to go to court. Orloff refuted a published report that his office hadn't contacted the attorney for former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot Grant after he and other officers stopped a train at the Fruitvale station after receiving a report that two groups of people were fighting on the train. Mehserle resigned on Wednesday so that he wouldn't have to talk to BART officials as part of their investigation. Orloff said his office has asked for a statement from Mehserle on two occasions and has been refused both times. Orloff said Mehserle won't be arrested until the point where charges are filed against him, a complaint is filed and an arrest warrant is issued. Although BART officials say Mehserle has moved twice for security reasons because his life has been threatened, Orloff said, "I know where he lives" and doesn't have any concerns about Mehserle fleeing the area. As Dellums was beginning his news conference, BART directors were finishing a five-hour public hearing at which elected officials, such as Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson and Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks, and community members criticized the transit agency for doing a poor job of responding to the public's anger about Grant's death. Nedir Bey, a former member of Your Black Muslim Bakery, accused BART directors of being "servants of the devil" and said he thinks the protesters who became violent in downtown Oakland Wednesday night were justified. "I'm not here for peace," Bey said. He said, "If they (the protesters) want to riot and tear things up, God bless them. I love what the people did last night." Yvette Felarca, a University of California, Berkeley graduate student and student senator who is the Northern California coordinator for By Any Means Necessary, said, "I couldn't be any prouder" of the violence Wednesday night. Felarca told BART directors, "The liability is on you. You should get the bill for every busted-up car." At the City Hall news conference, Dellums said the violence was "no different than picking up a gun and blowing somebody's brains out" and asked, "what does that have to do with justice?" The mayor also noted that Grant's family members spoke out against the violence at a news conference today. "The family said they don't want their grief to be an excuse for violence in the community," Dellums said. Growing emotional, Dellums said he's now 73 and came back to Oakland from Washington, D.C., "for one reason - not to make friends but to do things right." Dellums said there were riots in the streets 40 years ago "and here we are, still smashing cars." Saying that he's still hopeful that America will have a more promising future after Barack Obama is sworn in as president later this month, Dellums said, "Don't let these last few weeks rip up everything. My message is cool it out there, folks." Tucker said about 120 people were arrested Wednesday night. He said, "People have a right to peacefully protest but we won't tolerate setting fires, breaking windows and carrying guns." Oakland police spokesman Jeff Thomason said most of the people who were arrested were from outside of Oakland. He said most of those arrested have been cited and released but 21 people remain in jail, mostly on warrants for other cases. Tucker said there were no reports of civil unrest or disobedience during the day and promised that "we're prepared" if any more violence breaks out.
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