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Oakland Police Chief Blames Zimmerman Protest Violence On Small Group

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Protesters upset over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin blocked traffic on Interstate 880 in Oakland on July 15, 2013. (CBS)

Protesters upset over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin blocked traffic on Interstate 880 in Oakland on July 15, 2013. (CBS)

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OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent said Tuesday that Monday night’s protest against the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting case spiraled out of control because a small group of violent people were involved.

Whent said that in comparison to previous protests Sunday night and Monday night, the demonstration on Monday night included “a different crowd that was intent on more lawlessness, closing the freeway and engaging in vandalism.”

Police estimated that about 250 people participated in the protest Monday night and said that nine people were arrested, most of whom listed addresses outside of Oakland.

Whent said the number of people arrested “may appear to be low,” considering the amount of vandalism and other violent activity that occurred, but he said police believe that only “a small group of people were doing the vandalism, engaging in violence and breaking windows.”

He said it was “hard to arrest” some of the people suspected of participating in the vandalism because they blended into large groups of people.

The chief said the past week has been “very challenging” for Oakland police because a lot of resources already had been deployed to try to find missing 21-month-old girl Daphne Viola Webb, who was reported missing by her father last Wednesday, and officers have had to respond to Zimmerman verdict protests the past three nights.

Whent admitted that Oakland police were caught by surprise by the first protest Saturday night because they didn’t initially realize that the Zimmerman jury was deliberating over the weekend but he said more officers were available for the protests on Sunday and Monday nights.

He said his department would also have increased staffing Tuesday but so far it hasn’t had any information that there will be another large protest.

Reacting to criticism that the Oakland Police Department has responded less aggressively to the Zimmerman protests than previous protests because it’s now under federal supervision for past transgressions, Whent said, “That’s not the case.”

He said Oakland officers have undergone “a lot of training” on responding appropriately to demonstrations and there is “a tradeoff” between acting too aggressively and not doing enough to control crowds.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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