Oakland prepares for Wed. protest

January 13, 2009 7:39:11 PM PST
Expect another intense day on Wednesday because of the fatal BART shooting. A national day of protest is planned over the New Year's Day shooting death of Oscar Grant III. Protests are planned in as many as 14 cities, but Oakland is the hub, since that's where the shooting took place. Wednesday's march will be exactly one week since the near-riot the last time protestors hit the streets there.

The march will start at Oakland City Hall and head down 14th Street to the district attorney's office near Lake Merritt, where protesters will stage a "die-in." Protesters say they will lie face down on the ground with their backs to officers as they're monitoring the event, to reenact the way they say Oscar Grant III was killed by Bay Area Rapid Transit Police.

Protest organizers and city officials hope to avoid multiple arrests and chaos on Wednesday, which is what happened last week when peaceful protest turned violent on Oakland streets.

"We cannot condone, in the name of political protest, vandalism," said Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums.

On Tuesday protest organizers, who are calling for an end to police brutality, sat down with Oakland Police to plan for Wednesday's event. They say unaffiliated splinter groups are to blame for last week's riot.

"We're not responsible for everything that happens, but we are taking a responsible step as the city and BART should have earlier," said Dereca Blackmon, a protest organizer.

Protesters demand that Johannes Mesherle, the BART officer who shot Grant, be immediately arrested and charged with murder and that BART suspends the other officers who detained Grant and his friends at the Fruitvale BART station.

"We expect it to be a peaceful protest," said Oakland Police Officer Jeff Thomason.

Oakland Police, criticized for being unprepared last week, say this time they're ready. They'll have even more officers on hand for the march, but will stay in the background, unless the crowd gets out of control.

"We know people are not happy with the police right now and we're not going to be out there showing force because we don't want to inflame any situations that can happen," said Officer Thomason.

Downtown businesses are bracing for the worst since 45 were vandalized last week.

Now, the Bay Area Council wants Oakland to call in other law enforcement agencies for help. Council spokesman John Grubb says the Alameda County Sheriff is willing, but that he hasn't been asked by Oakland Police.

"What's coming tomorrow, they may need more assistance," said Grubb.

This week, many businesses thought it was safe to finally take down their boarded up windows, until they learned about the upcoming protest.

"I'm going to be reclosing up my store and hoping that nothing happens," said Anthony, a business owner.

Organizers say they're expecting at least 1,000 people to show up on Wednesday, from local religious leaders to celebrity rappers and as an added measure of security, organizers say they're also bringing their own security force to monitor the event to make sure this march remains a calm one.