New: Oakland Shows Grace under Pressure, All Things Considered

By Becky O'Malley
Friday July 09, 2010 - 05:07:00 PM

The unsung heroes and heroines at Bay City News did themselves proud in Oakland last night, producing a steady stream of accurate on-the-spot reports which appeared online in, at least, the Berkeley Daily Planet, the SF Appeal, the Bay Citizen, and on the website of more than one TV station. The Planet was also fortunate to get a couple of excellent submissions “over the transom” from an Oakland resident we hadn’t known previously. 

The poor old Chron didn’t do nearly as well, greeting readers this morning with a huge umpty-ump-point front page headline, biggest I’ve seen there in years, VIOLENCE FLARES AFTER MEHSERLE CONVICTION. Well, yes, that’s what we call in the trade a self-fulfilling prophecy. What happened in Oakland last night was a lot more complicated than this set of stories and photos, which had a full dozen bylines and at least four photo credits attached to it. You can be sure that when a paper assigns sixteen of its ever shrinking pool of employees to a story it will be a Big Story. Or else. 


The major part of the evening, the part that accounted for “1,000 angry protestors”, was a typical Oakland event: mellow, multi-cultural, disorganized. We went down to see the event which was scheduled to take place at 6 on the day of the verdict in Johannes Mehserle’s trial for shooting Oscar Grant.  

The announced location was Frank Ogawa Plaza, a mini-amphitheatre carved out of the concrete in front of Oakland City Hall. The invitation to the anticipated peaceful rally we received by email came from Oakland Council president Jane Brunner, but nobody seems to have told the cops. Intersections for blocks away in every direction were barred by police cars, but we managed to find a semi-legal parking place fairly close in after driving around the periphery to check out the action 

But when we got there, not long after 6, we found that the action was not in front of City Hall, but a block or so away, in the intersection of 14th and Broadway, where about 500 people had already gathered. A steady stream of irate speakers stepped up to the microphone of the modest sound system, but it was impossible to see or hear them unless you were very close indeed, so mostly people just milled around and greeted friends. 

There were lots and lots of cops, with lots and lots of fancy gear, and lots and lots of newsies, ditto. In fact, at a glance it was clear that people in those two categories outnumbered protesters.  

Among protesters, people not of African descent seemed to outnumber those who were, but as always in Oakland people of indeterminate ethnicity with a pretty good amount of melanin were in the majority overall. The melanin-challenged contingent seems to be composed of equal parts of surly youth with extreme hairdos and tattoos and earnest grey-haired folks, among whom I recognized several of my old lefty friends from Berkeley, plus a number of doughty UUs from Oakland’s First Unitarian Church with hand-made signs.  

Police had formed a line blocking off 14th street at Harrison, creating a nice open space which was promptly commandeered by stunting skateboarders. And there was a jolly little brass and drum band which played for a while. 

We walked over to check out Frank Ogawa Plaza—still nothing going on, though there was a good deal of sound equipment and many security personnel, none of whom knew anything about the plans. Finally we connected with two middle-aged men in clerical garb who were there representing Oakland’s African-American clergy and also, as they told us, God. They thought the program was scheduled to start at 7, but 7 came and went without anything happening. 

On the way back to the rally on the corner we encountered an older lefty lady friend who was walking with a cane. She was in some distress because she’d taken BART from the Rockridge station like a good citizen, only to discover that they’d closed the 12th street BART station after she got there. Since it was getting colder and later, we offered to drive her back to Rockridge to pick up her car. 

On the way there, I observed cynically that if they closed all the parking and public transport near the rally site, the resulting percentage concentration of healthy young men with excessively active testosterone was sure to cause trouble. And sure enough, when it got dark, that’s what happened, and we were gone. The old folks went home and the young men got rowdy. BCN reports today that 60 males and only 18 females were arrested, many simply for refusing to leave when the police ordered them to. . 

Only 19 of all the arrestees were from Oakland, by the way. Who were the rest? One clue: a major target for vandalism was Whole Foods. Your typical Oaklander is not consumed with Whole Foods Envy, having more pressing things to worry about. 

Considering the major catastrophe which segments of the press were greedily anticipating, things didn’t go all that badly, in truth. Mayor Dellums was justly proud of the outcome, despite a few misdeeds. 

My other observation of the evening was that if I were up to no good, I’d be sure to do my evil acts almost anywhere except at 14th and Broadway, because all the police in the county, not to mention the highway patrol, were tied up there. And sure enough, two guys were shot dead on different street corners in East Oakland early last night.