Johannes Mehserle sentenced to 2 years

November 5, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The moment Oscar Grant supporters heard that Johannes Mehserle had been sentenced to two years in prison, there were tears and there was anger.

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"We're not surprised and what everyone should know is that the anger of the folks who will come to this rally today is righteous and the other thing that folks should know is that we are not stopping now," protest organizer Cat Brooks said.

Around the downtown Oakland Friday, uniformed police officers stood watch on just about every corner.

City Council President Jane Brunner says she hopes the streets remain quiet, but she is bracing for anything.

"People feel like there needs to be justice and this gentleman needed to apologize to the family and that less than two years with time served doesn't do that," she said.

An event outside Oakland City Hall was supposed to help calm tensions. Oscar Grant's grandfather pleaded for calm, saying violence is what killed his grandson.

"You can't blame every police officer for what one cop did because if we didn't have them we'd be in a whole lot of trouble," Oscar Grant Sr. said.

But for many the case has been about so much more than Oscar Grant.

"They protect the guilty, they protect private property, but when one of us is murdered they protect the murders," one protester said.

Once the sun went down Friday, the protesters took to the street. The group of 300-500 people marched through downtown Oakland, smashing a few windows and doing some damage to an AC Transit bus. One officer was injured when he was hit by a car, which was believed to be an accident and another officer was injured in a skirmish in which his gun was tkane and pointed back at him.

Police corraled the marchers in a residential neighborhood and encouraged the crowd to disperse before beginning to make arrests shortly before 8 p.m..

Police say they are ready

At a Friday afternoon press briefing, Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts reported minimal criminal activity on Oakland streets, less than normal for any other Friday. Of 24 calls Friday afternoon, none have been related to Mehserle verdict.

"That is probably due to our increased presence," Batts said.

The increased presence includes two police helicopters and numerous officers on the ground in potential hotspots, including Frank Ogawa Plaza outside City Hall. Many of those officers also have cameras.

Officers have also identified trouble makers from the verdict riots, last July, and according to Batts, "Our officers have politely introduced themselves." Batts says the proactive plan began taking shape last March, even before the trial and the verdict. It appears to rely on a heavy, though subtle, police presence with plenty of resources and reinforcements spread about the city, but out of sight in underground parking garages. "Well, I guess this is not my first rodeo," Batts said. "I've been doing this for 28 years, I had plenty of experience in Long Beach, I lived and worked the Rodney King riots."

With officers in Oakland from as far away as Monterey County, Batts appears confident, but he says he is not relaxed.

"We won't breathe easy at any point in time," Batts said. "It is hours, now, until darkness, so we are waiting to see what happens after dark."

Businesses brace for unrest

Oakland city officials were urging businesses to stay open Friday, advising merchants instead to use "common sense" and calm employees and customers.

Many stores are staying open, but many more are closing early. Still others have boarded up their businesses, fearing another night of vandalism, looting and window smashing.

The Foot Locker on Broadway right across from Oakland City Hall was ransacked in July after Johannes Mehserle was convicted. The store was boarded up and closed Friday. But Mr. Pizza Man, which was not hit by looters even though it is right next door, is still open. The manager says he will wait and see what happens before deciding to fortify the windows and close early.

The venerable DeLaurer's Bookstore, which is also on Broadway, will stay open just like it did the last time. Owner Fasil Lemma says no one did anything to his store even though protestors smashed windows right next door.

"They love Delaurer's and we're friendly as well," Lemma said.

James Cho, owner of JC's Gold Teeth Jewelry, is hoping for more police protection this time. During the verdict protest during the summer, his store was attacked by a mob, his jewelry was stolen and his employees were assaulted.

"The city of Oakland, you know, they could so something better," he said.

At Hill's shoes, co-owners Pete Chatman and Brod Lewis couldn't agree more.

"They should bring them all the way down Broadway, not just in the area of City Hall," Lewis said.

"You only need one person in the crows to start something and once that person starts something, everybody else is going to follow, so we are hoping for the best," Chatman said.

Clorox, one of Oakland's biggest employers, sent an e-mail to its employees, asking them to stay at home Friday. And at about noon, the University of California told 800 employees working in its administrative building in at 11th and Franklin Streets to go home. Oakland City Hall also sent employees home early and shut down at 3 p.m.


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