Approximately seventeen people have been charged over the past three weeks with crimes related to the protests against former BART cop Johannes Mehserle's involuntary manslaughter verdict on July 8th. Some of those recently charged were arrested that night, while others have been identified by police in photos, and have been newly arrested. The latest set of arraignments on Monday, September 20th saw three Oaklanders charged with Unlawful Assembly, Remaining at the Scene of a Riot, and Rioting. They are set to reappear in court within the next month.
Five people arrested on July 8th remain in the Santa Rita County Jail, and at least three who were arrested last week remain incarcerated. According to the Oakland 100 Support Committee, one of the earlier arrestees was held for over 30 days before charges were filed against him. He now faces a slew of charges which include failure to disperse, although, again according to the Oakland 100 Support Committee, he was arrested before the order to disperse was given. The people who have been incarcerated since July 8th have been charged with parole or probation violations.
Attorney Dan Siegel, a member of the National Lawyers Guild who acted as a legal observer on the night of July 8th , said in a recent interview that the city prosecutors especially target people who have been on probation or parole, but not for charges relating to protesting. “In these cases, the [District Attorney]… will virtually drop the new charge and just proceed on the probation violation because they know you don’t have a right to a jury trial; it’s not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s simply proof by a preponderance of the evidence that someone’s violated their probation.” This strategy worked for one of Siegel’s clients , who chose to take a probation-related plea bargain after being charged with crimes that could land him in jail for 3 to 5 years. “After looking at all the alternatives, he was able to make a deal where he would wind up serving about 7 months in the county jail and everything else would basically go away and he would be on a new term of probation.”
Art Jackson, who spent 45 days in jail after being arrested on the night of the protests, has been charged with crimes related to the looting of the Footlocker shoe store on Broadway Avenue by 14th Street. In a recent statement, Jackson explained that he did not commit any of the crimes he is being charged with. Among those charges are second degree burglary, petty theft with a prior, and receiving stolen property.
Soon after the protests, the Oakland Police Department issues a press release explaining that some of the people arrested were taking “advantage of a chaotic situation by looting Oakland businesses.” While to some extent this appears true, Siegel and Walter Riley of the Bay Area chapter of the NLG make it very clear that it was the police forces themselves who made the situation chaotic.
In our interview, Siegel explained from his observations on the night of the protests that after around 7:30pm, when the rally ended, the police heightened tensions and created a dangerous situation for community members. “It was a mellow scene, and the police disrupted that by deciding to declare the unlawful assembly and pushing people, and just kind of creating a lot of anxiety and anger in the crowd. It was soon after that occurred that some people broke into the Footlocker, and yet the police did not attempt to protect the Footlocker or to intervene.”
Long time community activist and NLG member Riley agreed that in the protests, which in some cases turned into legal violations, the police, fully clad in riot gear, were not keeping the peace. Soon after the protests he said, “The police were provocative and seemed determined to instigate violence, which of course, served their police contract negotiations with Oakland at a time when they are facing layoffs of 80 officers.” He added, “The police helped to perpetuate a narrative of violence by allowing a small number of people to vandalize businesses when they could have stopped it.”
On the other hand, however, at a press conference on the day following the verdict, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums made a statement praising the OPD for restraining itself and respecting the civil rights of community members.
The number of people charged with crimes relating to the protests against Mehserle's verdict continues to increase, apparently in relation to responses the police have gotten to a press release pressing community members to “Please take a moment to review the images [on their website] and help us identify individuals who looted Oakland businesses”—spelling error and all.
The Oakland 100 Support Committee is calling for support from the community to help in the defense of the people who were arrested during those protests. A list of court dates and locations as well as a way to donate to support court and lawyer fees are available on their website
Born and raised in Oakland, CA, Jesse Strauss is an independent journalist. Reach him at jstrauss (at) riseup.net.