By Sudhin Thanawala and Trevor Hunnicutt
ABOVE PHOTO: A demonstrator lies on the ground during a demonstration after the sentencing in Oakland, Calif., Friday, Nov. 5, 2010 of former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant at a BART station on Jan. 1, 2009. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry sentenced Mehserle to two years in prison.
(AP Photo/Noah Berger)
OAKLAND, Calif. — Looking out her front window in a usually quiet residential neighborhood in this city, Deanna Goldstein’s knees began to shake.
More than 100 protesters were hemmed in by police in riot gear. A trash can was blazing on the street.
“I came home early from downtown to get away from the craziness, but the craziness came to me,” she said.
In the past, the violent protests over a white transit officer’s slaying of an unarmed black man trashed downtown Oakland businesses. But after Johannes Mehserle on Friday received the minimum two-year sentence for slaying Oscar Grant, angry demonstrators marched into residential areas near Lake Merritt for the first time, putting innocent people in harm’s way.
Police arrested 152 protesters, including seven juveniles, on suspicion of crimes including vandalism, unlawful assembly and disturbing the peace.
Oakland police spokesman Jeff Thomason said 56 of those arrested were from outside the city. Investigators will be reviewing video and photographs of protesters damaging property to help prosecutors file charges, he said.
A “Justice for Oscar Grant” community meeting at the Olivet Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland drew about three dozen people, including at least one person who was arrested Friday.
Yvette Felarca said she was taken into custody while simply standing in the crowd with a megaphone. “I was arrested for protesting and demanding justice for Oscar Grant,” she said.
After the meeting, Minister Keith Muhammad expressed disappointment with the sentence, as well as the judge’s decision in the case.
Police said they were not anticipating more violence.
“But we’re prepared for it, just in case,” said Sgt. Bobby Hookfin. Hookfin did not elaborate on what those preparations were.
Residents who woke up to broken car windows and littered streets were left asking why protesters chose their neighborhood and how it became engulfed in violence.
Nai Saelee, 28, said she was shocked to see that her neighborhood, made up of mostly one- and two-story homes and low-rise apartment complexes, was affected.
The school teacher was kept from getting to her house by a police cordon, and later found the front windshield of her car damaged.
“I’m glad I wasn’t here,” she said outside her home Saturday, as Oakland City trash collectors made their way through the area picking up debris.
The arrests began around 8 p.m. on Friday after officers were pelted with rocks and bottles. One officer had his gun taken from him in a fight and another was hit by a car and suffered what police described as a non-life-threatening injury, Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts said.
He said the violence was confined to a “small number of people” and most protesters remained peaceful. There were no additional reports of unrest overnight.
“People do not have a right to tear this city up,” Batts said in a statement. “Oakland already has a lot of pain, and it’s not fair. This city has been torn up too many times.”
The Mehserle case drew comparisons to the 1991 videotaped beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers, which inflamed a racial divide and led to rioting.
The shooting of Grant by Mehserle on a train station platform on New Year’s Day 2009 was captured on cell phone video taken by bystanders and widely broadcast on television and the Internet.
Police arrested more than 100 people during protests in January following the incident in which windows of downtown Oakland businesses were smashed, trash cans and cars were set on fire and police were pelted with bottles.
A jury in July convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter, prompting another round of protests that resulted in arrests and looting and trashing of stores along the city’s wide downtown streets.
Hookfin said the damage from Friday’s protests was far less than the destruction following the verdict in July.
Prosecutors had sought a second-degree murder conviction against Mehserle, who has contended he mistakenly shot Grant with his gun, instead of his Taser.
Grant’s uncle, Cephus Johnson, said he was heartened to see what he characterized as mostly peaceful protests for his nephew.
“What I was told was that it was really more positive than negative,” he said. “It brings smiles not just to my face but the (entire) family’s face to know that this is a movement that people are committed to.”