More than a thousand protesters jammed the amphitheater at Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of Oakland’s City Hall Jan. 14 and then marched seven blocks to the Alameda County Administration Building and the Alameda County Courthouse, all part of the continuing demonstrations in the aftermath of the New Years Day shooting death of 22-year-old Hayward resident Oscar Grant III by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle.
The demonstration came a day after Mehserle, who resigned from the BART police force several days after Grant’s shooting, was arrested in Lake Tahoe, Nevada and then charged with murder by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office.
Wednesday night’s protesters, at times chanting “I am Oscar Grant” and many of them carrying placards with Grant’s photograph, heard an array of speakers denounce Grant’s shooting, what they contend was a delay in the response by the district attorney’s office in arresting and charging Mehserle, and the continuing violent deaths of young men and women in the East Bay, whether it is at the hands of police or their peers. Among the speakers were Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks, protest organizer Dereca Blackmon, Oakland Nation of Islam Minister Keith Muhammad, Oakland rapper Too Short, and Oscar Grant’s grandfather. A letter of support for the protesters from Congressmember Barbara Lee was also read, saying that the Congressmember was pleased that an arrest had been made.
An open coffin with Grant’s name in spraypaint laid on the amphitheater at Frank Ogawa Plaza, and several protesters had paper masks of Oscar Grant on their faces.
Several members of Service International Employees Union Oakland workers carried signs reading “Respect Oscar’s Memory. Oakland Families Are United. Don’t Trash Oakland Merchants.” That message was directed at vandals who rampaged through downtown Oakland a week earlier, throwing rocks, bottles and other objects indiscriminantly through windows in several downtown business sections. Along the route of Wednesday night’s march, many merchants had put up leaflets in their windows calling for justice in the Oscar Grant shooting.
Protest leaders issued five demands in the Grant case, including the indictment and prosecution of Mehserle, the resignation, retirement, or recall of Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff, the release of the names of all of the BART police officers involved in the detention and arrests on the Fruitvale BART platform the night Grant was shot and killed, the creation of a BART Civilian Police Review Board, and BART and City of Oakland support for the creation of community healing and conflict resolution centers for East Bay youth.
Oakland police officials estimated the crowd at between 800 and 1,000, but police estimates are usually low in such cases.
Dereca Blackmon, a local diversity and social justice consultant and co-founder of the Committee Against Police Executions (CAPE) and the individual many have credited with initially sparking the Grant community reaction, told participants in the City Hall rally that she took issue with the assertion in some local and national media outlets that the Grant protesters were only interested in shootings of youth by police officials, but not by other youth.
“People have made insulting remarks asking ‘where was the outrage’ when black men were doing the shooting,” Blackmon said. “Oh, we were outraged. We marched and held prayer vigils and candlelight rallies throughout the community and held our babies close to us and called for an end to the violence in the community.” Speaking directly to the throngs of media representatives that were crowding Ogawa Plaza, Blackmon added that, “but you weren’t there with your cameras when we were doing that.”
While most speakers called for calm among the demonstrators, at least one speaker, Oakland rapper Ise Lyfe, predicted that there would be trouble “in downtown Oakland and at City Hall” if Mehserle were to be acquitted at his eventual trial. Lyfe has posted a rap about the Grant shooting on his MySpace website at http://www.myspace.com/iselyfe, one of the many indications that Oscar Grant is rapidly ascending from a human being to the watchword for a growing cause.
The protest, which both march leaders and various city officials declared a success, was marred by vandalism committed along a three block stretch of Broadway by scattered elements of individuals and groups, some of whom participating in the earlier protest. Police said some 15 individuals were arrested for vandalism in the events following protest, and another three individuals arrested during the march and rallies.
Oakland police and march security worked in coordination for several hours following the march and demonstration in order to keep down the trouble.