Protests of the involuntary manslaughter verdict in the trial of former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle extended beyond Oakland and the Bay Area Thursday night.
Reports of vandalism, looting and rioting came in from places as far as Los Angeles, where the trial took place, to Fresno and Tacoma, Wash. as communities reacted to the verdict.
“It is a misrepresentation by the police and the media to try to act as if there’s an isolated group of people who are angry and prepared to raise hell,” said By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN, spokeswoman Yvette Felarca. “This is a blatant expression of injustice by this court system.”
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office announced today that 78 people were arrested in connection with riots in downtown Oakland Thursday night. Of the arrests, 19 were of Oakland residents, 20 were of residents of other Bay Area locations, and the others were from other parts of California and out of state.
Mehserle was on trial for the shooting death of Oscar Grant III, who was killed on Jan. 1, 2009 when Mehserle and other officers responded to a report of a fight on a train at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland.
In Tacoma, vandals tagged a police car with spray paint with the words “Oscar Grant was here,” Tacoma police Officer Mark Fulghum said.
Some of the local protester groups approved of the turmoil that unfolded in downtown Oakland last night, citing the visibility protesters’ actions will generate for their movement.
“If the court system fails to render justice, it always takes a movement to continue that fight,” said BAMN spokeswoman Felarca, who condoned the actions of the anarchist-driven crowd.
Felarca said that although the guilty verdict was a victory for the movement, “the decision itself was not justice.”
The group is calling for amnesty for the 78 people who were arrested last night in connection with the riots, which resulted in vandalism and looting of an area of downtown between the 12th Street/Oakland City Center and 19th Street BART stations.
“As a movement, we stand together and we defend each other,” she said. “We are powerful together because we stand united for a common cause, anarchists or democrats” or anyone else.
“Justice has no boundaries,” Felarca said. “An injustice in one place is an injustice for everyone.”
Other groups expressed disappointment with the non-peaceful protesting and blamed out-of-towners for starting the string of violence that broke bank windows, defaced buildings with graffiti and destroyed other private property.
Jacky Johnson, an outreach and events manager for the group Youth UpRising, which strives to engage and empower Oakland youth, said that her outreach team members had been in downtown earlier in the day, but “left before things got crazy.”
“This is our city, let’s take care of it. Let’s do it right,” she said.
Last week, the group held a youth leadership forum with guest speakers from the U.S. Department of Justice who gave a talk about the steps in the trial and sentencing.
As for what’s to come in the next few days as news of the verdict spreads, police in Santa Cruz are gearing up in expectation of demonstrations and rioting after finding flyers around town calling for vandalism and violence in the wake of the verdict.
Santa Cruz police spokesman Zach Friend said the full deployment of officers is “an abundance of caution rather than abundance of necessity” because of a May Day riot that damaged downtown businesses along Pacific Avenue.