Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums said Friday that he’s “incredibly, extraordinarily, unwaveringly proud” of the way city residents responded to the involuntary manslaughter conviction for former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle for the death of Oscar Grant III.
Dellums said “people came out with pain and anger” at a rally in downtown Oakland Thursday night shortly after the verdict was announced, but he believes most Oakland residents protested peacefully.
Speaking at a new conference at the city’s emergency services office, Dellums said, “We saw acts of courage and great dignity last night” at the rally, which was attended by nearly 1,000 people.
The mayor also praised his city’s Police Department for “showing great restraint and respect for civil rights” in responding to protesters.
Many downtown business suffered property damage, such as broken windows, and there was looting at some stores, such as the Foot Locker shoe store at 1430 Broadway.
Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts said three-fourths of the 78 people who were arrested when the protest turned violent were from outside Oakland and appeared to be anarchists who were intent on creating havoc.
“People are coming from outside Oakland to cause problems and that needs to stop,” Batts said.
He displayed various items that police seized while making arrests, such as gas containers used in making Molotov cocktails, tennis shoes from the Foot Locker store, baseball bats and spray paint that was used to spray graffiti on downtown buildings.
Batts said his officers “stood tall last night in the midst of people spitting at them, throwing rocks at them” and shouting racial slurs at them.
“I apologize to the businesses that were impacted” by property damage, Batts said.
He said, “We moved as quickly as possible to limit the damage.”
A large group of Oakland police officers stood by and didn’t respond initially when a group of people broke into the Foot Locker store and stole shoes and other items.
Batts said, “You can’t just run into a crowd” and noted that officers had been overrun by protesters earlier in the evening when they tried to remove two men who were trying to block an AC Transit bus that was traveling on Broadway.
He said, “The crowd reacted to us and you can’t just have police squads go right in” because they might get surrounded.
Dellums said protesters had “a legitimate constitutional right to assemble” and he didn’t want police to respond in an “oppressive and militaristic” manner.
But he admitted that some people took advantage of their freedom to assemble and “exploited the openness.”
Batts said his department, which was assisted by 15 other law enforcement agencies Thursday night, is preparing for possible additional protests tonight and over the weekend.
However, he said his department hasn’t heard of any more protests so far.