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Oakland Riots

Protestor Holds Bottle, Oakland Riots
Oakland protester holds bottle. Many bottles were thrown at the police tonight.

I just came back from a few hours walking around downtown Oakland and taking photographs of the riots tonight. The rioting started after a planned protest earlier today over the recent shooting of Oscar Grant by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle.

Most of the rioting activity took place around downtown Oakland, near 14th and Broadway. I was also out back in 1992 during the Rodney King riots in San Francisco and these riots felt a lot like those but with what seemed like less looting. Mostly the rioters were vandalizing automobiles and storefronts. There were quite a few cars burned out. The Oakland PD was trying to get the burnt out cars off the streets as soon as they could. Many retail stores also had their windows broken and smashed. Many of the stores in downtown Oakland have metal bars on the windows and I didn’t see anyone going into stores and looting.

After assembling around 14th Street and Jackson Street, the rioters headed back towards Broadway and City Hall. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums came out and the rioters gathered around him on the City Hall steps as he pleaded for people not to be violent and tried to assure the crowd that he would do everything he could to ensure that justice would prevail in the case of the shooting. After speaking to the crowd for a while Dellums went back into City Hall and the rioters moved up towards Broadway. Police were in force surrounding the rioters in riot gear. When the crowd started throwing bottles at the police, some from balconies overhead, the police fired tear gas into the crowd. My eyes are still burning a bit from the tear gas, but it definitely dispersed that crowd.

Posing in Front of a Burnt Out Car, Oakland Riots
Man posing in front of a burnt out car who wanted me to take a photograph of him.

But from there the crowd would seem to just keep moving down one street, up another. Smashing things as they went on their way. There were also smaller groups of 5 or 10 people at a time apart from the main crowd vandalizing things.

Eye In The Sky
Photograph of police helicopter shining spotlight on rioters over the City of Oakland, photo by my brother.

The people in the crowd were very angry. They were definitely taunting the police. Using expletives with them. Yelling at them. Calling them pigs.

Police helicopters are still and have been flying over the City of Oakland all night. I suspect that the rioting will continue on into the night and that these riots are not over yet.

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums Tries to Calm the Crowd, Oakland RiotsOakland Mayor Ron Dellums Tries to Calm the Crowd.

BART suspended service at many of the BART stations as the crowd moved around Oakland.

I spent about two hours shooting the riots tonight downtown with my brother. Stupidly I parked my car near downtown. I thought I was far enough away from the riots, but the crowd was moving a lot and when I came back to my car I found that the car parked immediately behind mine had been burned out. Fortunately my car wasn’t damaged, but I feel bad for all of the people who had their property damaged or destroyed in tonight’s riots.

I fear that this is only the beginning of the rioting we may have in store for Oakland. Eventually this officer will be brought to trial and it may be very difficult to get a murder conviction for an on duty shooting. Anything short of a murder conviction however may result in even more devastating violence in Oakland.

I took my 10D out shooting tonight instead of my new 5D Mark II so the photos I took are a bit grainy, but I have a set up here on Flickr if you’d like to see them. My brother also has the set of photos he took tonight uploaded here.

Update: poppimple got a pretty good video showing the rioting here.

Update 2: The SF Chronicle has a pretty good wrap up on the rioting.

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36 comments on “Oakland Riots
  1. Louis Gray says:

    Thomas, appreciate your taking the time to chronicle this event and share it. The video I’ve seen is very troubling, and the rioters have every right to be angry, it seems. Their reactions, as with many previous incidents, will serve to further hurt the community, which is very unfortunate. You are lucky you were safe and your things were safe as well. A very sad episode once again in the East Bay.

  2. Genie says:

    Your images are amazing. I hope you’re wrong about how long this is going to go on…I’m so heartbroken about what this is doing to the city.

  3. Eileen says:

    As an fellow Oaklander I feel very unsettled and sad. The city deserves much better than what its been handed.

    Thank you for braving the chaos and documenting what is sure to be a long debated issue.

  4. Tom Newman says:

    Tom,

    Thanks for posting your photos from the riots. This has been all over the news tonight and it’s crazy that it’s been seven days since the murder and nothing has happened. I can understand the frustration of protesters but I also believe a lot of the damage tonight was done by though looking for an excuse to cause harm.

    Stay safe and be careful out there.

  5. Disoriented says:

    I was back home for the holidays when the shooting happened and I was devastated and speechless. Keep taking your photos and chronicling this tragedy. Where words fail, your pictures capture the sadness and anger in a heartbroken community.

  6. i’m wondering how connected this is to the rioting we experienced here in athens.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Oakland CA used to be sucha beautiful nice neighbourhood. Obvisouly it’s now gone to hell with rapists, murderers, revolution and anarchists about to take over the entire nation. WELL DONE BUSH.

  8. Nate says:

    Riots and mobs always remind me of Nathanel West’s The Day of the Locust:

    Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. This daily diet made sophisticates of them. The sun is a joke. Oranges can’t titillate their jaded palates. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies. They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved for nothing.

  9. Jeff D says:

    I’ve always been curious as to why rioters often riot in or near their own neighorhoods and seem to end up hurting themselves more than anyone else?

    I guess if I was organizing a riot, I’d go riot where there was something worth taking.

    It’s like burning your own apartment to the ground because you’re mad at your landlord.

    I’d also guess that 99% of the rioters never knew the deceased even existed before this crime was committed.

  10. Anything short of a murder conviction however may result in even more devastating violence in Oakland.

    Well, considering Oakland rioted when they lost the Superbowl, this may not be enough.

    (I don’t mean to talk shit about Oakland, but there are unfortunately a lot of people looking for the flimsiest excuses to break shit.)

  11. Anonymous says:

    LAST NIGHTS RIOTING….TYPICAL NEGRO ACTIVITY!!!! IS ANYBODY REALLY SURPRISED???

  12. Ben, fellow oaklander says:

    It just disgusts me what happened last night, way more than what happened to Oscar. It’s a shame that these people had to completely crap on the memory of the deceased and disrespect and destroy their own community…it makes no sense to me. Senseless violence, people just looking for any excuse to get rowdy and break things.

  13. barb lewis says:

    Thank you for posting your pics and experience through this awful ordeal. My friend lives in Oakland and I was on the phone with her last nite when everything started happening. I hope and pray that everything will be OK for your city. Barb in Texas

  14. Charlie Owen says:

    This is going to be off topic and I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, Thomas, because I consider you a friend. You have a wife and children at home — putting yourself ‘at risk’ in this manner is not in the best interest of your family. Next time, stay at home and watch it on the news — don’t chance becoming a news story yourself.

  15. Tom,
    Well done with the photos. I can’t help but think this may turn into a similar situation as was seen in Greece over the recent weeks. There is an underlying tension in the people of the entire nation, right now. Oakland has always been a tough city, and it will be interesting to see if this spoils over into other cities, or locations… Again, nice shots and thank you for bringing it to light.

  16. Tom,
    Well done with the photos. I can’t help but think this may turn into a similar situation as was seen in Greece over the recent weeks. There is an underlying tension in the people of the entire nation, right now. Oakland has always been a tough city, and it will be interesting to see if this spoils over into other cities, or locations… Again, nice shots and thank you for bringing it to light.

  17. Thomas Hawk says:

    Yeah Charlie, I thought about that. It definitely weighed on me and it took me an hour or so to decide if I was going to go down and cover them or not. When I witnessed the Rodney King riots I was single and without kids. Now it’s a different ball game though.

    I tried to be pretty careful when I was down there and I was with my brother. I was very cognizant of what was going on around me, but with a mob of course anything can happen.

    At the same time I think I would have regretted it had I not gone down there and photographed things. My photography is such a big part of who I am and documenting all in my world, both good and bad, is important to me.

    Appreciate the thoughts though and I’m sure it’s very good advice.

  18. The definition of riot can be debated but regardless, the people were out of control last night. I agree that the longer the criminal process takes on the BART police officer, the people are going to become more active in their protests.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Tragic death, but it’s not “murder”.

    The cop made a huge mistake. It’s pretty clear from the video that he thought he had his Taser out, because the movements are too quick and nonchalant for a firearm. And the other cop backed away as to not get shocked. Then, the shock on the cops face. Oops!

    BTW, Where are all of the rioters in Oakland regarding the violent crime and ACTUAL MURDERS THAT OCCUR DAILY.

    Oakland is a joke.

  20. Anonymous says:

    fucking idiots creating more violence.

  21. Wonderlane says:

    Hi Thomas,

    I am planning on having cards printed for that very reason – and because at least once I got out of a bad spot in a foreign country by answering “yes” to the question “are you a journalist?.”

    As to the shooting of Oscar Grant, I think for the people who pray to pray for him is a good use of the energy.

    Perhaps something influenced the officer to shoot our man Oscar Grant, like too much playing of video games, and even the idea of using a taser on someone who was just simply intoxicated on New Years – none of the long clips I have watched show Oscar being anything else than compliant, even while he was still face up.

    Another man was also killed on New Years in Seattle by a police officer; he had a weapon, but again just drinking, not threatening anyone.

    As far as the rioting goes – people who lead happy productive lives with hope aren’t found outside at night rioting. There is a lot wrong with this country, that I believe we can fix with the fresh new president – here is a statement I thought covered it pretty well –

    Video is clear
    by concerned oakland citizen
    Thursday Jan 8th, 2009 1:52 AM
    “The police are more concerned about protecting property, they could care less about what people are going through. Being a cop in Oakland must be a tough job, but maybe the city, county, and state should do something about oakland schools that are falling apart and maybe bring in some good jobs that allow for people to get out of poverty. Ooohh wait, that’s right the state is billions of dollars in debt because our government and corporations are greedy, incompetent, and criminal. Forget helping the poor we need the money to go towards the military so they can wage endless wars…huh

    No excuse for that cop, the evidence is plain and simple. If he doesn’t get at least involuntary manslaughter for his gross negligence than there is something seriously wrong with the system.”

    Best wishes for your continued success,
    -Linda

  22. I’m Proud to Be from Oakland.

    If you have managed to make it out a of a place, and still managed to Love your home and yourself, then you could imagine what I am getting at.

  23. Meep says:

    Thank you for the report.

  24. mouxlas21 says:

    my support to those who protest against police violence …we had a similar case here in greece when on december 6th a cop shot a 15 years old boy (just google greece riots or search in youtube for videos) …after a month protests and clashes with the police are still ongoing …we want change and we’re done talking …throw your TV out the window and get out on the streets

  25. When i read things like this, I’m so happy the police in Norway doesn’t carry guns. But that aside, we also had a riot in Oslo last night. It started as a protest againt Israels bombing of Gaza, and quikly escalated to fights between angry youth and the police. Some pictures http://www.flickr.com/photos/thomma/sets/72157612352741400/
    Looks like yesterday was the big riot day!

  26. Anonymous says:

    I hope the rioting stops in Oakland, for the people of Oakland. This is a tragedy. I know Johannas well. I know his family. They are very good people that raised a nice man. This was a mistake. I am convinced he went for his taser. You can see on the video he had no reason to draw a gun and NO reason to fire his weapon. This is why I am convinced that he went for his taser, then pulled the trigger. With all those people around, do you really think a cop would shoot an unarmed man in the back? This was a horrible mistake. I know that will not bring the victim back. Hopefully the riots will stop. Hopefully Johannas will be able to apologize soon. I know his lawyer is telling him not to talk. BART must talk and apologize. This was not an execution, it was a mistake. Do not destroy your beautiful City.

  27. eye_c_us says:

    I understand the frustration
    of the youngtas cause the justice
    system is all f” up but we should really organize young and old alike and start patrolling our own neighborhoods, and creating more outlets for our youngstas right in the most dangerous of areas of Oakland because If you can learn their ‘lingo’ and they see that you could relate to their frustrations than I think we could make a change in 2009. Another suggestion is to boycott the whole damn bart system and start carpooling but it takes unity first and then we could organize! Let’s not let the murder of Oscar Grant go in vain! It’s a trip cause I have 3 sons which are teenagers and I’m explaining to them that the po po don’t care about black young men.. I refuse to have them in the system or end up shot by the police for nothing.. This is what I think about everyday as an African American Mother with three sons..

  28. Christian man says:

    Well done Bush!!! why are the police and the rioters fighting each other?.Why not unite together and attack the biggest criminals of all the politicians?…. Attack the white house 2000 west Pennsylvania avenue.

  29. Barrie says:

    An award winning documentary REVOLUTION ’67 looks at the riots in Newark in the 60s. In that particular incident, it was also police brutality that ignited the anger of frustrated citizens. The film tries to shed light on the influences that let to the 500 examples of urban disturbance in U.S. cities during that decade. It is worth watching to parallel what has changed, what hasn’t and what has gotten worse in the forty years since.

    http://www.newsreel.org/nav/title.asp?tc=CN0203

  30. Aion kinah says:

    Another suggestion is to boycott the whole damn bart system and start carpooling but it takes unity first and then we could organize! Let’s not let the murder of Oscar Grant go in vain! It’s a trip aion kianh I have 3 sons which are teenagers and I’m explaining to them that the po po don’t care about black young men.. I refuse to have them in the system or end up shot by the police for nothing.. This is what I think about everyday as an African American Mother with three sons..

  31. Cathy says:

    I just want to know the answer then. If a police officer makes a mistake, regardless of color, then should they go to jail for it? It seems like an honest mistake, that under distress/having a bad day, etc., someone could pull out one thing (gun) and think it’s another (stun gun). Should they be jailed for making a mistake? I am thinking if he honestly meant to do the deed, he would take out a lot more dangerous, rude people than one unarmed black guy.

    Acts such as this promote aggression, hence the officers feeling it themselves. You pay for what you do…. but not quite enough. If someone vandalized my gd store for nothing, I would pull out my f***** shotgun.

  32. Cathy says:

    If you don’t want to be shot, it’s an easy answer, genius. Do what I do and quit doing things that will put you in the line of fire. I try to stay as far away from the cops as possible, black, white, latino, whatever. I don’t want trouble. If you do want trouble, go do stupid sh** like riot all over Oakland and ruin the lives of your own people. That’s the answer, Einstein.

  33. Ian says:

    We really need to put all this in perspective….if Oscar was home on new years with his 4 year old being a real father, none of this would have happened.Now look at all of this s**t, they have once again turned it into a racial issue, when all it was a stupid ex con behaving badly.

  34. Surfin' The Web says:

    The entire situation is just plain sad.

    * Sad a poorly trained BART “wannabe” cop was placed in a position where such a sad, horrible mistake could have been made.

    * Sad individuals who were clearly at BART that night to cause trouble are being made out to be victims.

    * Sad a case that was a “no win” proposition was brought to trial. The current verdict angers some, guilty would have angered others.

    * Sad individuals are now thrashing their own town and looting their local business owners when EVERYONE is hurting from California’s dead end, no growth economy.

    * Sad a verdict isn’t honored and accepted. We live in a society that wants “justice” and “safe streets,” yet 1) California won’t honor the death penalty currently on the books at a cost of approximately $50k a year per inmate and 2) Race is always the excuse for why someone might not be guilty or should have received a stiffer sentence.

    Talk about a sad state of affairs.

  35. John says:

    Blacks will always find an excuse to “demonstrate” their inner feral ape.

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