A protest over the fatal shooting by a BART police officer of an unarmed Black man mushroomed into several hours of violence Jan. 7 as demonstrators smashed storefronts and cars, set several cars ablaze and blocked streets in downtown Oakland.
The roving mob expressed fury at police and frustration over society's racial injustice. Yet the demonstrators were often indiscriminate, frequently targeting the businesses and prized possessions of people of color.
They smashed a hair salon, a pharmacy and several restaurants. Police in riot gear tried to control the crowd, but some people retreated along 14th Street and bashed cars along the way.
The mob smashed the windows at Creative African Braids on 14th Street, and a woman walked out of the shop holding a baby in her arms.
"This is our business," shouted Leemu Topka, the Black owner of the salon she started four years ago. "This is our shop. This is what you call a protest?"
Wednesday night's vandalism victims had nothing to do with the shooting death by a BART police officer of Oscar Grant on New Year's Day–but that did little to sway the mob.
"I feel like the night is going great," said Nia Sykes, 24, of San Francisco, one of the demonstrators. "I feel like Oakland should make some noise. This is how we need to fight back. It's for the murder of a Black male." Sykes, who is Black, had little sympathy for the owner of Creative African Braids.
"She should be glad she just lost her business and not her life," Sykes said. She added that she did have one worry for the night: "I just hope nobody gets shot or killed."
The protest had started calmly shortly after 3 p.m. at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland, where BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle shot 22-year-old Grant of Hayward a week ago. BART shut down the station well into the evening commute, although the demonstration there was peaceful.
However, shortly after nightfall, a group of roughly 200 protesters split off and headed toward downtown Oakland, prompting the transit agency to close the Lake Merritt and 12th Street stations. The group wreaked havoc through much of downtown, drawing hundreds of police in riot gear. It wasn't until roughly 10:40 p.m that police clamped down on the mob, arresting dozens who were cornered near the Paramount Theatre, and bringing an end to the mayhem.
Earlier in the evening, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums met the mob on 14th Street, urging calm and leading them on a walk to City Hall, where he gave a speech.
"I sense your frustration," he told the crowd. "I understand that you've lost confidence in a process because you've seen what you believe is a homicide … But listen to me, we are a community of people. We are civilized people. We are a nation of laws."
Dellums told protesters that he had asked the Oakland Police Department to investigate the shooting. "I have asked Oakland police to engage in a fair, parallel investigation, the way you'd investigate any homicide in Oakland," he said. "If that leads to an arrest, that's what it would lead to…I'm asking people to disperse," the mayor said to the couple hundred people in the crowd. "Let's leave in a spirit of peace."
But soon after, a man shouted "that's the modern day lynching" and the mob quickly continued its rampage, smashing at least seven storefronts on 17th street between Franklin and Webster streets. They also smashed eight cars, including four belonging to the City of Oakland.
Near 14th and Alice streets, Myron Bell was taking dance lessons in "step," a form of dance popular among African Americans, when he looked out the window and saw people jumping on his Lexus sedan.
Bell, 42, came out to find that almost all of the car's windows, including the front and back had been smashed and it appeared that someone had tried to set the car on fire.
"I'm for the cause," said Bell, who is Black. "But I'm against the violence and destruction."
Nearby, Godhuli Bose stood near her smashed Toyota Corolla as a man walked by, repeatedly called her a misogynist slur and then added, "F- your car."
Bose, a high school teacher, said: "I can't afford this."
Earlier in the evening, when the mob first appeared downtown, Oakland Police Officer Michael Cardoza parked his car across the intersection of Eighth and Madison streets to prevent traffic from flowing toward Broadway and into the protest. But he told The Chronicle that a group of 30 to 40 protesters quickly surrounded his car and started smashing it with bottles and rocks.
Cardoza jumped out of the car and said some protesters tried to set the car on fire, while others jumped on top of the hood–incidents repeatedly shown on television. Cardoza said the protesters "were trying to entice us into doing something."
A Chronicle reporter saw a fist-sized rock in the back seat.
A group of protesters also set a trash bin aflame, moving it adjacent to the police car. Police threw tear gas into the group to disperse it, said BART Sgt. Mark MacAulay. After 8 p.m., there were numerous arrests.
"When you get that mob mentality, it can be dangerous," MacAulay said.
Other protesters marched on BART's 12th Street Station about 7 p.m., prompting the transit agency to close the downtown hub station even as it was reopening the Lake Merritt and Fruitvale stations.
The mob blocked the intersection of 14th and Broadway, near the downtown BART station entrance. As police put on helmets and gas masks and stood in a line formation, some demonstrators held signs that read, "Your idea of justice?" and "Jail Killer Cops."
One man lay in the intersection with his face down and his hands behind his back–intentionally evoking the position that Grant was in when he was shot.
Some in the mob wore masks over their faces as they yelled at police. Roughly a dozen stood just a few feet away from police as they screamed at them. Chants included "pigs go home," "the fascist police", "no justice, no peace" and "we are all Oscar Grant."
Mandingo Hayes, who is Black, said he participated in the protest because "we're tired of all these police agencies getting away with shooting unarmed Black and Latino males."
Hayes, 36, downplayed the attack on the police car. "For a police car to get abused, and for a person to get shot and killed, which would you rather be?" said Hayes, a construction worker from San Pablo.
As the night wore on, Hayes tried calming people down, asking for peace.
The core group of the mob appeared to be about 40 people, several of whom were with Revolution Books, a Berkeley bookstore. A man distributed the "Revolution" newspaper–whose tagline is "voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, U.S.A."–as he shouted "This whole damn system is guilty!"
Soo Jung Sung, an Asian American, didn't understand why she was to blame. She wept as she looked at the shattered front windshield of her Nissan Montero.