Just after 9 PM on the Thursday night after the involuntary manslaughter verdict in the Oscar Grant / Johannes Mehserle trial, this blogger got off at 12th Street, Oakland City Center BART Station after uploading the first set of videos of the peaceful protest at 14th and Broadway, and expecting more of the calm that existed around 8 PM. That was not the case.
Instead, the police, from not just Oakland, but the California Highway Patrol, and cities like Fremont, had closed into the once safe intersection of 14th and Broadway and had been in the process of carrying out orders to have the crowd leave the area.
The result was more police than people, and who did I run into but Oakland lawyer Dan Siegel and two of his friends, who complained in detail about what they saw as runaway police misconduct. One friend said "OPD (Oakland Police Department) had to put us in this vice. (Councilmembers) Jean Quan, Rebecca Kaplan, and I decided we were going to be the police line. We linked arms. So they kept marching, marching, pushing us, pushing us. They grabbed some kids and beat them to the ground, and they wouldn't listen to reason. These automatons. These androids, you know?"
Dan Siegel, who takes on police brutality cases, said "You know what I think. I think the police totally overreacted, provoked the people who were demonstrating. About 7:30, people were leaving. It was very peaceful. It was very quiet. They (the police) decided they were going to push people up Broadway from 12th to 14th. There was a lot of pushing and shoving, and clubbing. Some of the cops take the ends of their clubs and jam them in the back or the kidneys and ribs. And it kinda started to get a little crazy. And some of the people in the street got rowdy and broke windows out. Some people decided to steal some shoes and all that kind of stuff. But the police just totally went off, and made a peaceful demonstration chaotic and rowdy."
Rebecca Kaplan in the makeshift police line
The video below, found on Flickr, has Councilmember Kaplan explaining that they're trying to keep the peace as the police behind her work to sweep the street of people who were told to disperse. It's the same line that Councilmember Quan had joined.
The other view of police conduct
A number of people, most who did not want to be quoted, said the police acted with restraint. Phil Tagami of California Capital Group observed the scene from the roof of The Rotunda Building and then on the ground later and said that the police had "bottles thrown at them and didn't even react."
Early on, as the police were massing at 14th and Franklin, they were being taunted by some observers and when one person moved close to them, they moved back out of that person's way. So, it seemed to this observer that they weren't going to take any action until they were under orders to do so. Until then, they were working to stay out of the way.
Media and police are to blame
What happened Thursday night that resulted in 78 arrests and damage to an estimated 100 businesses was something we seemed to want to have happen. From the talk about a riot before the verdict to the allowance of a peaceful protest at City Hall, when really that entire part of downtown should have been shut down for the night, to the rabble rousers who wanted to make something happen, to the hundreds of people with cell phone cameras, video camcorders, and all types of recording devices - what I call the "personal media brigade" - to the police themselves, all combined to cause the result.
But with all that, it wasn't nearly as bad as last year, when rioting carried on for days and BART had a Sunday community meeting. But with all that, it's not over: Johannes Mehserle will be sentenced on August 6th. There's still a chance he may not have anything other than probation.