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.
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.
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.
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.