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Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent talks to media about the weekend vandalism and violence as he tours the downtown Oakland, Calif. area hit the hardest during the weekend protests on Monday, July 15, 2013. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)
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OAKLAND -- Two consecutive nights of protests over George Zimmerman's acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin brought several assaults and many thousands of dollars in damages but only one arrest -- a dissonance some Oakland businesses and leaders find hard to take.

While few protesters resorted to violence and vandalism, rage over the verdict was real and raw in this city. But with Oakland police under unprecedented federal oversight for past transgressions and the city having just agreed to pay millions in legal settlements for its handling of previous protests, officers clearly reacted with a very light hand.

"It's a little bit frustrating to see no action," said Natalie Nadimi, community engagement manager for Oaklandish, an apparel store that had four windows smashed Saturday. "I don't know if no action is the appropriate solution. There needs to be a middle ground."

Interim police Chief Sean Whent, who surveyed the damage Monday, said police were lightly staffed Saturday and caught off guard by the initial protests. Whent said investigators are reviewing surveillance footage in an attempt to make more arrests.

Mayor Jean Quan said the city's residents and merchants must speak out clearly and forcefully against such criminal acts.


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"It's not acceptable," Quan said Monday, though she added police aren't to blame. "No number of police are probably alone going to be able to do it. ... Can we afford to have cops watching 20 people every night all night? These people just have to stop.

"People in the city are pretty tired. We're pretty weary of people coming and doing this and particularly giving us a bad image. ... It's a city that's very sad and very mad."

Windows were smashed, walls and windows were spray-painted and a Bay Area News Group photographer and KTVU cameraman were attacked, as a small number resorted to violence and vandalism Saturday and Sunday nights.

A pair of police officers who were told of the photographer's injury didn't get out of their van Sunday but rather continued following the crowd as it moved up Telegraph Avenue.

"That doesn't sound right to me, doesn't sound very professional," said Sam Walker, a University of Nebraska, Omaha, criminal justice professor who has consulted for the Oakland police and U.S. Justice Department on use of force. "To not make arrests when you see a reporter or somebody else being attacked makes no sense at all -- that's almost an invitation to more criminal conduct."

One person was arrested later on an unrelated charge of failing to disperse after police declared the march an unlawful assembly.

Businesses on Broadway near Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, a gathering point for protesters, have been easy targets for vandals during past protests. Juno Thomas, manager of the city's Business Assistance Center, once again made the rounds there Monday, offering the city's aid in boarding up windows, filing police reports and so on.

Nadimi said police were slow to respond to requests from Oaklandish to file a police report. But she said Oaklandish has no plans to move. "We really represent what Oakland is about and where it's going," Nadimi said. "There's no question we are going to stay here."

About 60 people were inside the Dogwood bar on Telegraph Avenue at 17th Street when protesters smashed the front windows with bicycle locks Saturday; employees rushed forward and were "physically pushing them away," owner Alexeis Filipello said.

When police arrived about 45 minutes later, she warned them that a mob of about 50 was setting trash cans afire on 17th Street. "Basically the police officer said, 'There's nothing I can do, and I don't care,'" Filipello said. "It was such a 'not-our-problem.'"

"When is enough, enough?" she asked Monday. "How are we supposed to get help?"

Whent told reporters he thought most of the vandalism was committed by people who live outside Oakland. He said the department hadn't known that the Zimmerman jury would deliberate over the weekend, so only eight to 10 officers were immediately available Saturday to police a protest of 150 people that grew increasingly violent and destructive. When asked if he was happy about the staffing, Whent replied, "No, not at all."

Walker was amazed by this.

"How out of it are they? You couldn't find a cable channel that wasn't covering the trial and anticipating the verdict," he said. "A much better job can be done, even in this difficult type of situation."

But University of South Carolina professor Geoffrey Alpert, an expert in police decision-making and use of force, said it's not easy for a department -- especially one so roundly criticized for past decisions -- to strike a balance between overreaction and under-reaction. "They may not be finding a sweet spot, but most departments don't," he said.

Police agencies sometimes believe it's better for a disturbance like this to run its course than to put protesters and officers alike at risk in a head-on clash, Alpert said. "And that's not a bad strategy. If their intelligence shows it's not organized, there aren't outsiders and the fires aren't being fueled with dynamite, maybe it's better to let people vent."

Staff writer Natalie Neysa Alund contributed to this report. Contact Josh Richman at jrichman@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman.