Protests After Conviction in Oakland

Protests After Conviction in Oakland

Mobs of protesters smashed storefronts, lobbed bottles and set fires overnight in Oakland, Calif., hours after a white transit officer was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of an unarmed black man on Jan. 1, 2009.

Dozens of arrests were made late Thursday and early Friday, according to The Associated Press, as the police used riot gear and a heavy presence to try to disperse the free-ranging crowd, which ransacked stores and stampeded through city streets whenever officers surged to make arrests.

City officials were worried about a reprise of the riots that erupted in downtown Oakland after the shooting death last year of Oscar Grant III, when crowds burned cars and smashed storefronts. Mr. Grant’s shooting was captured on cellphone video and widely disseminated on the Internet.

The verdict also prompted Justice Department officials to announce Friday that they would look into whether the case warranted federal prosecution.

After the verdict was announced Thursday, several hundred people gathered near Oakland City Hall and taunted and threw bottles at police officers in riot gear. At least one person was either hit by a vehicle or injured by the surging crowd. Hundreds of others listened peacefully to speakers who had gathered downtown.

As night fell, smaller groups of protesters spread into side streets. Shortly after 9 p.m., someone tossed a home-made bomb into an area where the police were arresting a masked man. The concussion startled the police and protestors, as the police manned gas masks.

Peter Van Kleef, owner of the Cafe Van Kleef, a popular downtown bar around the corner from City Hall, and about 30 patrons watched the action through steel security fencing. As the police action ratcheted up, Mr. Van Kleef announced to patrons that it was time to leave or stay, despite a group playing music in the bar.

“It was like the band on the Titanic,” he said.

On Friday, city officials and merchants picked up from the overnight mayhem spurred by the conviction of the Bay Area transit officer, Johannes Mehserle, 28.

Mr. Mehserle had been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Mr. Grant, who was shot while lying face down on a platform after being removed from a Bay Area Rapid Transit train during a fight.

Mr. Mehserle contended that the shooting was an accident, that he had mistaken his sidearm for his Taser. He now faces up to four years in prison, and perhaps more since a gun was involved in the crime. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 6.

Mr. Grant’s family was disappointed with the verdict, which came after a day and a half of deliberation by a jury in Los Angeles, where the trial had been moved because of worries about impaneling an impartial jury in Alameda County.

“We thought the jury was dismissive,” said John Burris, a lawyer for the Grant family. “It’s a small victory, but it is not a fair representation of what happened — an officer standing over him with his hands tied and shooting him.”

The verdict, announced to a packed courtroom at Los Angeles Superior Court, was preceded by anxious moments in downtown Oakland, where some merchants had boarded up storefronts in expectation of protests.

Yolanda Mesa, 31, who said she was Mr. Grant’s sister-in-law, arrived downtown after the verdict and criticized the absence of blacks on the jury. “We are not happy with this at all,” she said. “This is not justice.”

But for some, the fact that a police officer had been convicted — a member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit police, not the Oakland force — was some solace. Black residents in Oakland, who make up a large portion of the population, have long had an uneasy relationship with the city’s police, whose past episodes of brutality and malfeasance have led to a long period of oversight by independent monitors and a federal judge.

“We’ve been suffering police brutality for generations,” said Lesley Phillips, a longtime Oakland resident. “We want it to end.”

City officials and the police in Oakland had prepared for the verdict for weeks as arguments were under way. Reaction in front of the Los Angeles courtroom was calm, but officials in Oakland closed City Hall and sent city workers home soon after word that a verdict had been reached.

Mayor Ron Dellums and Police Chief Anthony W. Batts of Oakland had been urging calm as the jury began deliberating. The police had also been put on alert, practicing antiriot maneuvers and coordinating with representatives of several local agencies in case of civil unrest. City officials had argued that much of the violence from earlier riots had been caused by “outside agitators.”

That message was echoed by a group called Oakland for Justice, which organized an evening rally to create “a safe space” where youths would not be “exposed to the risk of arrest because of the actions of others.”

But Arnold Lucas Jr., 19, said he was depressed by the verdict and thought it was unfair. “It’s the same thing as Rodney King,” he said. “It’s 2010. The same thing is going on. There’s never going to be peace on earth.”

City Councilwoman Jean Quan said: “I don’t think anyone is really happy with the verdict. At least we’re pleased he didn’t get total acquittal.”

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