OAKLAND -- A day of peaceful protests over the sentencing of BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle ended in an angry march that led to a confrontation between protesters and police and 152 arrests. One officer had his holster ripped from his gun belt and another was hit by a car; his condition was unknown Friday evening.
But the scale of violence and destruction that marked previous protests did not manifest itself Friday night, although City Hall closed early as did several stores near 14th Street and Broadway.
A handful of retailers also boarded up their storefront windows and restaurants reported reservation cancellations. Still, people crowded into galleries and restaurants in downtown Oakland for the First Friday-Art Murmur gallery crawl.
The rally began at 2 p.m. outside City Hall. The crowds chanted and hoisted signs but remained peaceful while police from as far as Monterey County, San Mateo and Sunnyvale lined the streets.
"People are feeling a lot of anger," said Judith Katz, a peacekeeper from the Bay Area Nonviolent Communication organization deployed to the rally in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. "People want to feel that Oscar Grant's life mattered."
The rally, which had as many as 400 people at its height, ended at 6:30 p.m. -- about a half-hour later than was planned. But it ended without an incident despite the anger that has pervaded the shooting of Oscar Grant III and the subsequent trial of Mehserle.
"It's truly a tragedy. It's a shame," Chester Byrd, 64, of San Francisco, said about the two-year sentence given to Mehserle.
Kiwi Illafonte, 36, said he was glad to see the community come together. "But for me, personally, I don't think that it's helping to heal or make use of my anger."
Organizers were supposed to move the rally from downtown to deFremery Park in West Oakland. Instead, a crowd of about 100 headed toward Lake Merritt. They marched to East 17th Street and Sixth Avenue. Some smashed the window of an AC Transit bus and tore through a construction site along the way. Shards of glass lay outside a sign store on Second Avenue.
The group intended to march to the Fruitvale BART station, where Mehserle shot Grant on Jan. 1, 2009. But they were met by a line of police in riot gear near Fifth Avenue. Police began inching toward protesters, pushing them toward officers lined up on Sixth Avenue. About 8 p.m., police announced that the gathering was an unlawful assembly and that anyone inside would be arrested.
Police said 152 arrests were made by the end of the night. Most of the arrests were for disturbing the peace and unlawful assembly.
"We bent over backwards" to allow for a peaceful protest, but some people chose to march through the city and tear it up, Oakland police Chief Anthony Batts said. Rocks and bottles were thrown at officers; fences were ripped down.
Batts said that usually after police declare unlawful assembly, they give people time to leave the area. He said, however, that police were not going to allow a repeat of what happened in July after the verdict was read.
The arrests were made "to show that you can't do this in the city of Oakland," Batts said. Police will protect people's right to protest "but not to tear this city up. This has to stop."
Batts said police thought that after the downtown demonstration, protesters would march to deFremery Park for another peaceful demonstration.
Police had tried to prevent the unrest. Officers from various agencies introduced themselves to about 16 people who caused the most trouble in July after the verdict in the Mehserle trial was announced. Batts said they told them, "It's a pleasure to see you, and we are aware of you."
Batts said officers would use a "very light hand" and allow the assemblage at City Hall unless people were "doing something that is outrageous" or disrupting traffic.
Even Grant's grandfather called for calm.
"Don't riot," Oscar Grant Sr. said. "Life didn't stop when my grandson was killed. We have to live here. They could give him 100 years (in prison), and it won't bring my grandson back."
Grant Sr. did, however, say he is bitter about the sentence.
"(Law enforcement) protect their own," he said. "I was in Vietnam. I was in a uniform. If I did something stupid, I'd be in Leavenworth (prison), but these guys are protecting their own."
Protesters echoed the anger. Rachael Jackson, an organizer of the group New Year's Movement for Justice, said, "We are out here to protest our disgust that Mehserle got two years for killing Oscar Grant. "... For shooting him in the back."
Staff writers Kristin Bender, Angela Hill, Thomas Peele, Katie Murphy, Josh Richman, Jackie Torres, Angela De Claro, Angela Woodall, Matt O'Brien, Nick Sucharski and Harry Harris contributed to this story.