Oakland police remain on alert for possible unrest

Graffiti marks an Oakland, Calif., storefront after demonstrations on Friday, July 9, 2010. Sparked by an involuntary manslaughter verdict for Johannes Mehserle, a transit police officer accused of killing an unarmed Oscar Grant on New Year's Day 2009, hundreds of protesters took to the streets Thursday evening. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
July 9, 2010 7:09:26 PM PDT
Oakland police remain on alert for the possibility of more trouble in the aftermath of the Johannes Mehserle verdict. His conviction touched off a night of vandalism in downtown Oakland on Thursday. Store windows were smashed, looters roamed the streets, one of our camera crews was mugged, and demonstrators set dumpsters on fire. Yet Mayor Ron Dellums is praising the city's reaction to the verdict.

When you have 78 arrests and damage to property people are left asking: Did police act accordingly?

"This time the police were a lot more restrained," said Oakland resident Joseph Johnson who was at Thursday's demonstration. "They definitely were well organized and giving good information and knew how to handle situations."

It took four weeks of planning. Fifteen agencies from several counties helped, keeping unruly protesters confined to a small area. Their strategy was to make arrests and pull out quickly.

"You have to give people time to leave that area. When people start breaking things you can't immediately go in there as good citizens that have followed the law try to leave, you have to allow them to exit," said Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts.

But some believe the large police presence helped fuel the disturbances.

"Everybody was out chilling, just protesting, and what not," said demonstrator Ernie Rocker. "I think it all started when the police got a little bit more aggressive."

"I want to thank the community organizations, the community leaders that stepped up. I want to thank the young people who displayed courage," said Dellums.

The accolades were for many of the young people of Oakland and much criticism for outsiders -- 75 percent of those arrested were not from Oakland. The chief of police promised to go after them.

"We have pictures of who some of the people are," said Batts. "We are working with federal agencies and we want to follow up and instead of them coming to us, we are going to them so they understand that they don't come to this city and destroy this city."

More arrests are expected.

There were many organizations that for weeks worked with the community, especially the young people, to engage only in peaceful demonstrations once there was a verdict.

One of those groups was Youth Uprising.

"These are primarily white people who come into the city or Oakland and actually leave the nation believing that young black people are violent, when really these are white people," said Olis Simmons, founding director of Youth Uprising.

At a press conference Friday, the police chief was asked if he was already thinking ahead to Mehserle's sentencing. Batts said police will be as prepared for that as they were Thursday night.


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