OAKLAND, Calif. – As business owners boarded up broken windows and scrubbed graffiti here Friday, Oakland officials assessed the damage wrought by protesters after the verdict in a high-profile police shooting case and blamed outside agitators for the worst of it.
Thursday night’s demonstrations in downtown Oakland were the first big test of the city’s new police chief. They began peacefully enough in the hours after former Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the Jan. 1, 2009, shooting death of Oscar Grant III.
But after a nearly three-hour speak-out in front of City Hall ended, some protesters began throwing bottles and rocks at officers in riot gear who had circled the downtown to contain the protest. As the evening went on, stores were looted, fires were set and the windshield of a California Highway Patrol cruiser was smashed.
In all, 78 men and women were arrested, Chief Anthony Batts said during a Friday morning news conference, three-quarters of whom were from outside Oakland. Batts described many of them as “anarchists,” and vowed that authorities “will be moving forward to identify them and make further arrests.”
“They get into good crowds and cause issues,” Batts said. “We have pictures of some of them. We’re working with federal agencies. … We’re going to go to them so they understand they will not come to this city and destroy this city.”
Oakland officials had been planning for verdict day since the protests shortly after Grant’s shooting descended into vandalism and looting.
Many on Friday morning lauded Batts, former head of the Long Beach (Calif.) Police Department, who assumed his new job last October, and his department for controlling the violence and minimizing property damage. They also congratulated the network of community and religious organizations for helping keep the peace.
“The way they contained (the protesters) was borderline brilliant,” said James Fang, president of the BART board.
At the same time Friday, all parties were looking forward to Aug. 6, when Mehserle will be sentenced in Los Angeles County Superior Court.