Protests over BART shooting turn violent
Demian Bulwa, Charles Burress,Matthai Kuruvila, Chronicle Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
(01-07) 21:13 PST Oakland -- A protest over the fatal shooting by a BART police officer of an unarmed man mushroomed into a violent confrontation tonight, as a faction of protesters smashed a police car and storefronts, set several cars on fire and blocked streets in downtown Oakland.
Protesters smashed the storefronts of McDonald's as well as stores called Creative African Braids and Oakland Yoon's Pharmacy. Cars along 14th Street were smashed, and some were set ablaze.
A woman walked out of Creative African Braids holding a baby in her arms.
"This is our business," she shouted. "This is our shop. This is what you call a protest?"
Nia Sykes, 24, of San Francisco, a protester who was with the group, said, "I feel like the night is going great. 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," said Sykes, who is black. The demonstration "is totally appropriate."
Sykes 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."
Near 14th and Alice streets, Myron Bell was taking lessons in a 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 his 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," Bell said. "But I'm against the violence and destruction."
Nearby, Godhuli Bose stood near her smashed Toyota Corolla, and a protester walked by, repeatedly calling her a misogynist epithet.
"F- your car. F- your car," he said to Bose. Bose, a high school teacher: "I can't afford this."
The protest started peacefully shortly after 3 p.m. at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland, where BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle shot 22-year-old Oscar Grant of Hayward to death early New Year's Day. BART shut down the station well into the evening commute, although the demonstration there was peaceful.
However, shortly after nightfall, a group of roughly 200 protesters split off and head toward downtown Oakland, prompting the transit agency to close the Lake Merritt station.
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 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, Sgt. Mark MacAulay said. After 8 p.m., there were numerous arrests.
"When you get that mob mentality, it can be dangerous," MacAulay said.
Other protesters marched on BART's 12th Street Station about 7 p.m., prompting the transit agency to close the downtown hub station even as it was reopening the Lake Merritt and Fruitvale stations.
Protesters blocked the intersection of 14th and Broadway, near the downtown BART station entrance. As police put on helmets and gas masks and stood in a line formation, protesters held signs that read, "Your idea of justice?" and "Jail Killer Cops."
One man lay in the intersection with his face down and his hands behind his back - seemingly evoking the position that Grant was in when he was shot.
Some protesters wore masks over their faces as they yelled at police. Roughly a dozen stood just a few feet away from police as they screamed at them. Chants included "pigs go home," "the fascist police, no justice, no peace" and "we are all Oscar Grant."
Mandingo Hayes, who is black, said he went to the protest because "we're tired of all these police agencies getting away with shooting unarmed black and Latino males."
Hayes, 36, downplayed the attack on the police car.
"For a police car to get abused, and for a person to get shot and killed, which would you rather be?" said Hayes, a construction worker from San Pablo.
The core group of protesters was about 40 people, several of whom were with Revolution Books, a Berkeley bookstore. A man distributing "The Revolution" newspaper shouted "This whole damn system is guilty!"
Earlier in the day, police had been largely passive. But at around 7:54 p.m., they began to push the crowd toward Lake Merritt. One officer shouted "Get Back! Get Back! Get Back!" As they forced protesters back, protesters smashed windows, cars and threw objects at police.