Mehserle Sentencing Spurs March, Mass Arrest in Oakland

Tim Maloney/Staff

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Mass Arrest in Oakland

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After hundreds of protesters gathered Friday for an organized rally on the steps of Oakland City Hall, a mob of roughly 350 people began an unplanned march toward East Oakland in response to the sentencing of former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle - which was issued earlier that day - leading to the arrests of at least 120 individuals.

Mehserle, who shot and killed 22-year-old unarmed civilian Oscar Grant III at the Fruitvale BART station Jan. 1, 2009, was served the minimum penalty - a two-year sentence by Judge Robert Perry of the Los Angeles County Superior Court - for his July involuntary manslaughter conviction.

Mehserle, who has been in custody for 292 days, can have that time put toward his overall jail sentence and, as a result, could be released as early as January, according to lawyer Dan Siegel, a co-founder of the East Bay law firm Siegel & Yee who was also a member of the organizing committee for Friday's rally.

In response to the sentencing, a peaceful protest at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Downtown Oakland quickly escalated into violent outbursts and the destruction of both public and private property as the mob headed toward the Fruitvale BART station where Grant was killed.

Beginning around 2:30 p.m., about 200 people congregated in front of city hall to speak out on topics including Mehserle's sentencing, civil rights and racism.

"It's like a slap in the face - what we're being told today is a white cop can kill a black man, a brown man, and spend almost no time in jail," said Oakland resident Armando Guerra. "It tells us whose lives are worth more."

The rally, organized by community members in support of Grant including the National Lawyers Guild, had upwards of 300 participants, ended around 6 p.m. While no march was scheduled, about 200 individuals converged on 14th Street and Broadway in Downtown Oakland and began shouting "No justice, no peace" while blocking the intersection and surrounding two AC Transit buses around 6:30 p.m.

The protesters' outcries of injustice surrounding Mehserle's sentence escalated into a disorganized frenzy as they ran down Fallon Street in Downtown Oakland soon after. The group was stopped on 10th Street by a blockade of Alameda County Sheriff's Office SWAT members. The demonstrators then broke fences on the north side of Fallon Street where marchers ran through a construction site before reaching International Boulevard.

Destruction continued as the protesters headed toward east Oakland, smashing two windows on an AC Transit bus before turning their attention toward storefront windows and parked cars around 7 p.m. The protesters also smashed and destroyed a price sign at the 5th Street Shell Gas Station.

"Shut it down, shut it down!" the protesters shouted as police advanced on the group. "No justice, no peace! Oscar Grant could have been me!"

The group of protesters was finally blockaded by additional lines of Alameda County SWAT teams and county police departments, including those from Napa Valley, Hayward, Sunnyvale and Monterey counties.

Protesters swarmed the intersection of 6th Avenue and 17th Street, and began throwing rocks and shouting at police officers. At around 7:45 p.m., police declared the assembly unlawful and proceeded to make mass arrests by corralling the protesters into the block between 6th and 7th avenues on 17th.

According to Oakland Police Department spokesperson Jeff Thomason at 9:30 p.m., roughly 120 individuals were being arrested and would be taken to either the North County Jail or Santa Rita Jail.

"Things are peaceful and everyone is cooperating with police," he said. "There was some shoving when the announcement that we would begin arrests was made, but now all protesters have been handcuffed or zip-tied and are awaiting booking."

Among the roughly 120 people arrested and booked with unlawful assembly and disturbing the peace was recent UC Berkeley graduate Claire Keating, who has been heavily involved in campus protests in the past, including the Oct. 7 demonstration.

Though Keating did not respond to a question regarding her physical condition while she was being loaded into an Alameda County Sheriff's van, Thomason did confirm that no protesters had been injured during the event.

"To rip it up, I don't think that's fair," said Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts at a press conference Friday night around 9:30 p.m. "This is a good city with good people here, and it deserves better."


Contact Katie Nelson, True Shields and Mary Susman at [email protected]

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