OAKLAND (CBS / AP / BCN) — Police arrested 152 protesters who streamed through the streets Friday, some breaking windows and knocking down fences, after a former transit officer received the minimum two-year prison sentence for the slaying of an unarmed passenger.
A rally billed as a tribute to Oscar Grant turned into a march through the downtown area, where people broke car windows and two windows on a bus. After police in riot gear repeatedly blocked and outflanked them, several hundred protesters splintered into smaller groups and entered residential neighborhoods.
A group of about 100 protesters holding a banner reading “Justice for Oscar Grant” was hemmed in with officers on both sides of the street before police started making arrests around 8 p.m. Friday, saying the assembly was illegal.
The action was taken, Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts said, after one officer had his gun taken from him in a fight and another officer was hit by a car and suffered what police described as a non-life-threatening injury. “It’s one thing breaking windows; it’s another thing taking a gun from an officer,” the chief said.
During the arrests, police helicopters with their spotlights shining on the crowd were hovering above. After the protesters were handcuffed with plastic ties, they were being placed on buses for a trip to the county jail.
Officers checking the backpacks of several of those arrested found hammers, pepper spray, switchblades and anti-freeze, according to police spokesman Jeff Thomason.
Nearby, the Fruitvale BART station had been temporarily closed. The station was reopened by 8:30 p.m.
Police officers contained the havoc to that area, Batts said, and did their best to ensure the mayhem didn’t escalate.
“Is it out of control? No. Did it take a while to flank them? Yes,” he said of the crowd.
The disturbance followed a judge’s sentencing in Los Angeles of former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for shooting Grant.
As the peaceful rally broke up at dusk, protesters began walking onto nearby streets, blocking traffic. A heavy police presence was on hand, including groups of officers walking with the crowd.
About 10 blocks from the downtown area, one group of protesters was met by a line of about 40 police officers in riot gear, who blocked their progress.
Dozens of people in the crowd broke through a fence and walked through a grassy area to avoid the officers.
Officers were on alert throughout the day in case there was a replay of the rioting that followed the killing of Grant on New Year’s Day 2009, Batts said.
A handful of businesses were closed, and windows were boarded up as a precaution.
One bar at 510 17th St. had several windows boarded up and posters saying: “Be Cool. Mehserle lost his cool. Let’s not repeat his mistake.” Another sign read: “Violence is not justice.”
Next door at the Center for Elder Independence, employees were boarding up the windows.
Police on Friday recognized people who caused problems at the protests in July. Officers went up to them, telling them they hope they remain peaceful.
“We have identified them, and we are keeping an eye on them,” Batts said.
He said many uniformed and plainclothes officers were being deployed throughout the city to monitor protests and any possible violence or other illegal activity.
Mehserle, 28, resigned from BART a week after he shot Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man, who was unarmed. The former officer says he mistakenly used his gun instead of his Taser.
Earlier on Friday, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums said he understood the community’s angry reactions to Mehserle’s prison sentence for fatally shooting Oscar Grant III at the Fruitvale BART station in 2009, but he called for nonviolent protest.
Dellums said he would, “look to the (Grant) family to determine whether the standard of justice has been met” with Friday’s sentence.
“It’s very clear to me,” he said, in observation of the reaction of the family and their representative, “that this judgment was met with disappointment, was met with great pain and extraordinary hurt. One can draw from that … that the test of justice was not met.
“I understand the anger, I understand the pain, I understand the hurt, and the disappointment.”
Dellums said the reaction spoke to the community’s “historical experiences,” “cynicism,” and “everyday reality.”
Still, Dellums said he hoped that people would express their anger and their disappointment “in a manner that is nonviolent, in a manner that is not destructive to our community.”
Batts said police would work to ensure that people have the right to free speech and protest, but he warned that anyone damaging property or otherwise breaking the law would be arrested.
He said officers have been trained to try to identify those responsible using video cameras, and also to remove lawbreakers from within the crowd of people while still allowing peaceful protests to continue.
Mehserle could have faced anything from probation to 14 years in state prison.
When Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry sentenced Mehserle, he first ruled on a motion by Mehserle’s lawyer, Michael Rains, asking that his client be granted a new trial. That motion was denied.
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