At 2am on New Year’s Day there was lots of alcohol and drugs being consumed on BART Trains. There was a lot of tensions, and raised voices and fights broke out–on the moving trains. When one train stopped at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland, the BART police came to put a stop to the fight.
One of the young men involved in the brawl (22 year old Oscar Grant III) was face down, on his belly, when a BART police officer shot him in the back. This was all captured on video–cell phone and otherwise.
On Wednesday, just two days ago, a bunch of people went to the Fruitvale BART station for an organized protest of what some people feel is racial profiling and police brutality by the Oakland Police.
NOW, you may have noticed that the BART Police were the ones that brought the brawl to an end and, unfortunately, shot and killed the Oscar Grant III–NOT the Oakland Police. Yet, the Police and the People of Oakland have now had to pay a very dear price.
The “protest” went completely out of control and commanded the air waves of all of the local television stations. Broadcasting live footage of young people rampaging through the streets of Oakland, smashing windows of businesses and cars, setting cars and dumpsters on fire, trying to overturn police vehicles, looting… and went on for about 12 hours. There were fears of further violence last night.
Some of what I read in the San Francisco Chronicle today was extremely disturbing:
The roving mob expressed fury at police and frustration over society’s racial injustice. Yet the demonstrators were often indiscriminate, frequently targeting the businesses and prized possessions of people of color.
They smashed a hair salon, a pharmacy and several restaurants. Police in riot gear tried to control the crowd, but some people retreated along 14th Street and bashed cars along the way.
The mob smashed the windows at Creative African Braids on 14th Street, and a woman walked out of the shop holding a baby in her arms.
“This is our business,” shouted Leemu Topka, the black owner of the salon she started four years ago. “This is our shop. This is what you call a protest?”
Wednesday night’s vandalism victims had nothing to do with the shooting death by a BART police officer of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day – but that did little to sway the mob.
“I feel like the night is going great,” said Nia Sykes, 24, of San Francisco, one of the demonstrators. “I feel like Oakland should make some noise. This is how we need to fight back. It’s for the murder of a black male.”
Sykes, who is black, had little sympathy for the owner of Creative African Braids.
“She should be glad she just lost her business and not her life,” Sykes said. She added that she did have one worry for the night: “I just hope nobody gets shot or killed.”
… the mob quickly continued its rampage, smashing at least seven storefronts on 17th street between Franklin and Webster streets. They also smashed eight cars, including four belonging to the City of Oakland.
Near 14th and Alice streets, Myron Bell was taking dance lessons in “step,” a form of dance popular among African Americans, when he looked out the window and saw people jumping on his Lexus sedan.
Bell, 42, came out to find that almost all of the car’s windows, including the front and back had been smashed and it appeared that someone had tried to set the car on fire.
“I’m for the cause,” said Bell, who is black. “But I’m against the violence and destruction.”
Nearby, Godhuli Bose stood near her smashed Toyota Corolla as a man walked by, repeatedly called her a misogynist slur and then added, “F- your car.”
Bose, a high school teacher, said: “I can’t afford this.”
Earlier in the evening, when the mob first appeared downtown, Oakland Police Officer Michael Cardoza parked his car across the intersection of Eighth and Madison streets, to prevent traffic from flowing toward Broadway and into the protest. But he told The Chronicle that a group of 30 to 40 protesters quickly surrounded his car and started smashing it with bottles and rocks.
Cardoza jumped out of the car and said some protesters tried to set the car on fire, while others jumped on top of the hood – incidents repeatedly shown on television. Cardoza said the protesters “were trying to entice us into doing something.” A Chronicle reporter saw a fist-sized rock in the back seat.
A group of protesters also set a trash bin aflame, moving it adjacent to the police car.
Police threw tear gas into the group to disperse it, said BART Sgt. Mark MacAulay. After 8 p.m., there were numerous arrests.
“When you get that mob mentality, it can be dangerous,” MacAulay said.
Then I read another article in the San Francisco Chronicle written yesterday that discusses the riot, which was supposed to be a peaceful event, from the point of view of the organizers:
The man who organized Wednesday’s BART police protest said he broke down in tears when he saw his peaceful march turn violent as some participants began throwing bottles, spitting on police cars and setting small fires.
Evan Shamar said he left the demonstration and watched on television as the situation got worse.
“I was devastated by it,” said Shamar, 24, a photographer who lives in Oakland. “I worked diligently for the past 72 hours, and for it to be destroyed by a group of anarchists was extremely upsetting. I felt like my integrity had been compromised.”
But around 5 p.m., about 200 demonstrators left the Fruitvale Station and began marching toward downtown Oakland.
Not everyone agreed a march was the best thing to do.
Blackmon, who opposed the march, said she felt there needed to be a trained group of facilitators escorting marchers and working closely with police to maintain safety.
She said she was worried about some of the more uncontrollable elements at the Fruitvale rally.
“We did not feel that there had been proper preparation for it to be safe,” said Blackmon, who said she’s organized several demonstrations before.
“I did not want to stay confined in one area where we would not be seen,” he said. “I wanted to let everyone know what was going on. I wanted to make it clear the city was outraged.”
When the marchers reached the Lake Merritt BART Station around 6:15 p.m., Shamar saw things start to go bad. Marchers began kicking newspaper stands and using papers to start fires. As he saw them throwing bottles and spitting on police cars, Shamar said he wept and returned to the Fruitvale Station.
For the next four to five hours, marchers smashed and burned cars, shattered storefronts and clashed with police. Eventually, police arrested 105 protesters.
Shamar and other organizers said their cause was exploited by those who simply wanted to wreak havoc.
Is it just me or does it seem like these “victims” have put themselves in harm’s way to varying degrees? For example, I do not know anyone that would be on a BART Train at 2am–much less 2am on New Year’s Day. Nor do I know anyone that would be involved in a gang brawl on a BART Train. Furthermore I have never been on my belly with my hands behind my back with police over me with guns drawn.
For the record, I think that the death of Oscar Grant III was senseless and completely unnecessary. The cop shot him, an unarmed man, who was laying on his belly and, at that particular moment, did not seem to be a harm to anyone (except, perhaps, himself). At that moment.
Again, most of the time these “victims” had or have been behaving badly, often criminally and dangerously, and thus increase the risk of being hurt, killed, maimed, arrested and the like. You have to conduct yourself and your life in a constructive and peaceful manner, if that is how you want to be treated. If you are violent, disrespectful and criminal, then that is the path that you forge for yourself.
Then there’s the Police. Ahhh… The Oakland Police… They have to be a motley crew. Who else would take that job? They know before they even fill out the application that they are going to be putting their life on the line every single day. They know that they are going to have to deal with the people like the people in the pictures below. It takes a certain type of person, a certain type of personality, to agree to take a job like being an Oakland Police Officer. Each and every day they know they are entering the bowels of hell on Earth.
Yeah, Oakland, CA with an average of three homicides per week, looks like a nice place to live doesn’t it?