Activists plan to return to downtown Oakland on Wednesday, one week after a small group of rioters marred what had been a nonviolent protest over a BART police officer's shooting of an unarmed, prone man.
This week's event, scheduled to start at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza outside Oakland City Hall, is part of a national day of nonviolent protest over the New Year's Day death of Oscar Grant III, 22, of Hayward, at the hands of Officer Johannes Mehserle, 27, in the Fruitvale BART station. The shooting was captured on video by several onlookers, and has caused consternation around the world.
Gatherings also are planned for Wednesday in other cities, including Pittsburgh, Pa.; Columbus, Ohio; Little Rock, Ark.; and Erie, Pa., according to a Web page hosted by the Oakland-based Ruckus Society, a nonprofit that teaches nonviolent protest and civil disobedience methods to activists.
Organizer Dereca Blackmon — a founder and partner at Oakland-based Aya Solutions, which consults with government agencies and private companies on issues of race, gender and social justice — said organizers are doing their "due diligence" to ensure Wednesday's event isn't hijacked by others with their own, violent agendas. A group that splintered from last week's nonviolent protest rampaged through downtown Oakland's streets, smashing windows and damaging cars.
"We are having those conversations internally," Blackmun said Monday, adding her Coalition Against Police Executions would probably brief the media and public Tuesday on its preparations. "There is a lot of concern."
The Coalition Against Police Executions' Facebook page had 1,434 members Monday; a similar but London-based Justice for Oscar Grant page had 5,268, including members from all over the nation as well as from countries including Canada, England, France, Greece, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland.
Evan Shamar, who helped organize last week's protest and expressed dismay after things went awry, is hoping for a solid turnout this week.
"I hope city officials see the citizens of Oakland, and citizens all over the world, aren't going to rest until they see justice done," he said Monday. "We will definitely make it very clear to all the protesters and supporters there that we don't want any violence to take place."
Shamar said he doesn't condone random vandalism and violence, but he won't ask people to "censor their emotions" at this or other protests. "Shaking a cop car was very symbolic," he said. "If someone is angry enough to shake a cop car, I'm not going to tell them not to do that."
Reiko Redmonde — events coordinator for Revolutionary Books, a Berkeley bookstore that on its Web site says it promotes Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and the publications of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, and a longtime organizer with groups opposing the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq — was at last week's fracas. On Monday, she was canvassing Oakland high schools and merchants to drum up support for upcoming protests. She said an ad hoc committee she and other activists formed Sunday is demanding that Mehserle be arrested, jailed and tried for murder; that charges be dropped for all arrested in last week's protests; and that there be "no more police murder."
Oakland Police spokesman Jeff Thomason said most protesters come with peaceful intentions, but last week's protest was turned astray by "this rogue group of about 150, and what we noticed is that it appeared they were not from the Oakland area. About 70 percent of the people we arrested were not from Oakland. They're from all over the place."
"It appeared that they were professional protesters — they already had masks on and backpacks with & objects they can throw at the police. Obviously they came with another agenda than a peaceful one."
More than 100 arrests during last week's protests should discourage more violence, Thomason said. "We understand people's right to free speech and to protest & as long as it's done in a peaceful manner," he said. "We'll help facilitate peaceful protests. But when people come from outside the city with an agenda of violence, we're not going to tolerate that."
Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B. told MTV Mews last week that Oakland has "a history of being a city and community known for organizing and for our activism."
"So it was disheartening that a few people used the protest to get out their frustrations. A lot of those people (causing the damage) didn't know what the rally was for, and had nothing to do with the original protest and had no interest in Oscar Grant's situation. It takes away from what we're battling and the justice we want done," the hyphy hip-hop artist said, adding that he understands the community's frustration.
"I don't condone the burning down of minority businesses or destroying city property — that makes Oakland look bad," he said. "But Oscar Grant was not the first young man to be shot and killed by a police officer in Oakland in the last year. The Oakland police do not have a good relationship with the community — especially the young people of this community — so I understand some of that frustration."
The BART police — from which Mehserle resigned Wednesday — is an entirely separate entity from the Oakland Police Department, and answers solely to the BART Board of Directors. By resigning, Mehserle cannot be compelled to give a statement to administrative investigators.
The International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement plans a march for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, starting at noon outside the Oakland Police Department and passing BART offices on its way to Lake Merritt. For details, call 510-569-9620 or e-mail email@example.com.
Retired Hayward teacher Jacqueline Bass hosted a meeting of about 20 of Grant's schoolmates and friends, and two of Grant's cousins, at her Castro Valley home last weekend. They've resolved to hold a nonviolent protest at the Hayward BART station on Grant's birthday, Feb. 27, and they'll meet again at Bass' home Jan. 24 to continue planning the event; anyone interested in helping can contact Bass at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I'm just really so proud of them, the way that they are channeling everything," Bass said of her former students.