Oakland hopes to avoid Mehserle riot repeat

November 5, 2010 11:38:17 AM PDT
Oakland police say they do not anticipate large protests or rioting Friday following the sentencing of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle, but they are preparing for the worst.

Chief Anthony Batts said only one group has taken out a permit to hold a large gathering in front of City Hall Friday afternoon. He says so far, police intelligence does not indicate there will be massive protests like the one that followed Mehserle's guilty verdict in July or another in January 2009. Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for shooting unarmed passenger Oscar Grant on New Year's Day 2009.

Those incidents resulted in looting and numerous arrests.

Batts said all days off have been cancelled for Oakland officers and the agency will call on outside law enforcement for help if needed.

"We're not getting the sense or energy or intelligence that we're going to have any of the massive crowds that we had in July, however we're preparing for a worst case scenario," Batts said.

Cat Brooks is organizing the only permitted event.

"As far as we're concerned, the verdict was a slap on the wrist," she said.

She says people feel the need to come together to show both solidarity and if need be, defiance.

"The thing to remember is that while people may not agree with the tactics that were employed, the anger is righteous and really, they way to prevent that kind of thing from happening is to change a system where people feel they're being treated equitably along with other citizens," she said.

Batts has encouraged downtown businesses to remain open ahead of the sentencing, but despite the police chief's prediction of calm following the sentencing hearing in Los Angeles, numerous businesses in downtown Oakland have already boarded up storefronts.

Some business owners have hung Oscar Grant's picture in their window hoping that might keep their storefronts safe. Many are dusting off the same premeasured plywood they used for the verdict, a measure of precaution business owners say they feel they have to take.

The only other option is to do what business owner Cass Haynes plans to do, stand outside her barbershop all night long.

Police say they are ready, but will be in the background.

"You will not see a lot of police officers on the front line, we don't want to show a lot of police officers, we don't want to be the center of causing any issues or problems," Batts said.

Protesters say they are too.

"A lot of it also depends on how the police choose to handle the situation," Brooks said. "There's a saying that 'people don't start riots, police do.'"

The event, being called a live art program will begin at 2 p.m. at Oakland City Hall. There will be a rally from 4 to 6 p.m. and then the group will head to a park in West Oakland.


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