Last night, nearly a thousand people gathered in solidarity at the Fruitvale BART station to seek justice for the shooting murder of Oscar Grant by the BART police on New Years Day. The protest turned into a riot when we marched downtown, and the police used tear gas, rubber bullets, beat people with their nightsticks, and even started turning off street lights later in the evening to lessen visibility in the areas where we had stand-offs with the swat.
From 430pm to 930pm, me and Cootie, a few comrades, and an entire mob, moved through the streets of downtown Oakland, from rally to march to riot. Crowds were dispersed by the police, would break off into smaller factions, and regroup for new stand-offs. The police were clearly struggling to keep up. The cops shoved me around a bit, but I later retaliated (after recovering from the gas) by calmly taunting them with a camera in their faces - knowing that they could not arrest me for what I was doing. Turns out, my dog doesn't like cops either, and we spent a good amount of time at the front during standstills, facing off with the line of cops while Cootiemonster barked at them and I videotaped them.
A few were arrested. Some were provoked, others seemed arbitrary. The line of cops would occasionally swarm out like a flash in a mob, grab someone - seemingly at random - and suck them back behind the police line. All those I saw arrested were men of color, the majority black. Some of them beaten within distant view after they were detained. The line of cops held back protesters from getting close enough to videotape, and often attempted to block our view from scuffles that would break out occassionally. Some of the cops would actually honor our rights once we asserted that WE HAVE A RIGHT TO OBSERVE, but most of the time, they would respond with threats of violence and arrest.
A police car was jumped on and smashed up after a dumpster on fire was pushed into it. Cars were smashed and trampled in the path of the protest, several cars were lit on fire, and I saw at least one explode. Windows were smashed, trashcans, kiosks, and dumpsters were dragged into the streets to create obstacles against the pursuing line of cops. The windows of the McDonald's were smashed, and I watched as the cops came out of nowhere and chased down the kid. We all cheered him on, but ultimately, he got caught. Those fuckers can run really fast, so be warned.
I was teargassed while helping put out a fire that had started on the side of someone's house. I was pissed, and it burned like hell. Cootie was fine, and stuck beside me calmly like a badass riot dog the whole time (except for the one time I dropped her leash and she ran to the front of the march.)
I saw two women walking back from their car which had been completely smashed up, and said, "Hey lady, we're sorry about that", gesturing to their car. The owner of the car smiled back at me, saying casually, "Oh don't worry about it. I have insurance. And if that means that there is the chance that that kid will see justice, then its worth it. The police shouldn't get away with this kind of violence."
Oakland mayor Ron Dellums came out later on during the riots with two bodyguards, and were swarmed by protesters who pleaded, demanded, yelled at, and reasoned with him to take action against the perpetrators of the shooting and address the urgency of the situation. Nervous police officers monitored the crowd some 50 feet away as the mob encircled the mayor and they strolled down 14th St. surveying the event.
"He said the killing was a homicide and that he had ordered the City of Oakland to investigate the BART killing. The crowd interrupted much of his speech, expressing their displeasure with the situation."
I left around 930pm, right before "Round 2". You can read more about it at indymedia. By the end of the night, 105 people had been arrested.
It is also important to note that the organizers did NOT plan for this riot to happen. I can attest to the multiple times throughout the rally and march that the organizers were yelling for the crowd not to use violence or provoke the cops - to remain calm and keep it a peaceful protest. It was not the strategy, nor the intention of the organizers for this event to turn into a riot. But you can't control an angry, hurt mob in the face of riot police with a history of racist authoritarianism. Emotions were running high, and the tension between the cops and the crowd was at a palpable breaking point.
And things broke.
Sometimes you gotta stop protesting, and start fighting back. More strategy, more self-control, and more organizing if we are to gain allies and arm ourselves effectively against the state.
I caught a lot of footage on my camera-phone (they're really handy for that!), and once I figure out how to upload and increase the quality of the videos, I will upload them to the blog. If anyone has any suggestions for video editing programs I can use to lighten and sharpen dark cameraphone footage, that would be great!
Stay tuned for updates.