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Mehserle Verdict Protest Turns Ugly; 78 People Arrested

Police arrested 78 people in downtown Oakland Thursday evening after a group of agitators turned a peaceful protest of the Johannes Mehserle verdict into a window-smashing, store looting melee.

Police Chief Anthony Batts said the evening started off peacefully with about 800 people gathering downtown to voice their opinions, but at about 8 p.m., a small, hostile crowd began moving toward a police line that had been held for several hours, Batts said.

About 50 people wearing black masks, bandanas, hooded sweatshirts and backpacks threw rocks and bottles at the officers, Batts said.

He described the protesters as anarchists and said their goal was to go into crowds and cause people on both sides to overact.

At 20th Street and Broadway, officers dispersed smoke to break up the crowd, but no tear gas was used, Batts said.

Police issued a dispersal order and said over a loudspeaker that the protest had been declared an unlawful assembly, Batts said.

The crowd was reduced to about 300 people by 9:30 p.m.

"A number of protesters failed to adhere to that legal mandate," Batts said at about 10:30 p.m. "We have them boxed in and are making arrests since we gave them ample time to leave."

Batts said looting and vandalism occurred, particularly in the 1700 blocks of Broadway and west Franklin Street, and near the intersection of west Grand Avenue and Broadway.

A Foot Locker at 14th Street and Broadway was broken into, vandalized and robbed, witnesses said. Nearby, protesters broke windows of a Subway sandwich shop and a Far East National Bank.

They also pushed large trash bins into the street and set them on fire, Batts said.

Still others threw M-1000 fireworks at law enforcement officers and other demonstrators, Alameda County sheriff's Sgt. J.D. Nelson said.

Batts said he was proud of the way police responded, but he admitted to being disappointed by the minority of protesters who damaged property and attacked police and other protesters.

"To come to this city and destroy this city and to do the damage is something I frown upon," he said. "We deserve better. This city is not the wild, wild West. We will not tolerate it."

A Los Angeles jury today convicted Mehserle, a former BART police officer, of involuntary manslaughter for fatally shooting unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III on New Year's Day 2009.

The jury also found true the allegation that Mehserle deliberately used his gun.

Mehserle now faces between five and 14 years in prison when he is sentenced.

After the shooting, a riot broke out in downtown Oakland. Batts said about 75 percent of the people arrested during the riot were from outside of Oakland.

He said he expected many of the people arrested tonight would turn out to be residents of other cities.

Mayor Ron Dellums emphasized that the response to the verdict was generally constructive despite the violence that erupted late in the protests today.

He especially thanked the area's young people for expressing themselves in a "courageous" way.

"This was a positive event given the pain and agony in the Bay Area in response to this," he said.

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