January 30th. Bail hearing for Mehserle. The court house is grey and sits on Lake Merritt. Six blocks from 14th and Broadway, a block or two outside of Chinatown. A sunny Oakland day.
This edge of downtown is usually sleepy, tranquil—office buildings, often empty small businesses, wide streets, and the looming and always quiet downtown library.
But today is different: representatives of the Left are out in force, so are the unaffiliated and the young. Three weeks after the initial uprising, Mehserle faces his first bail hearing. Family members of Oscar Grant and those who can fit fill the courtroom. Everyone else rallies on the street corner with a generator mic and a makeshift stage. There’s sloganeering, chanting, and threatening allusions to the price that the city will pay if Mehserle is released. Petitions are signed. Why Riot? flyers are handed out.
The rally is interrupted when someone announces:
They’re fucking letting him out! Those motherfuckers! Three million dollars! That’s three hundred thousand with the bond!
If those courts aren’t gonna get him, the people out here are gonna get him!
The crowd’s immediate response is to block the entrances of the building but soon folks are yelling and taking the streets in the direction of 14th and Broadway. 150 are now moving towards the police station on the opposite side of downtown. Kids are getting out of school, folks yell at us from bus stops and street corners. One man brandishes a golf club and says through his smile:
Tonight shit’s gonna get fucked up.
Legal numbers are scribbled onto flyers and onto each other’s arms. Cops are scrambling to put on their helmets and riot gear as they form a quick line in front of their headquarters. There is a momentary standoff—some yelling, mad dog stares. The sun is still shining. There are not many of us but there is still energy.
We decide to head back up Broadway against traffic. The crowd threads through the lines of idling cars and cop cruisers. We move towards a grey SUV that is filled with five cops. Someone darts out of the crowd. A quick warning to friends:
Alright, watch out everyone!
The back window of the SUV is smashed and we scatter, cheering. The cop driving immediately opens his door, steps out and throws a handful of flashbangs and small tear gas grenades over his shoulder in the direction we are running. They bounce off cars and explode at our feet, sending an older man flying to the ground. We help him up and get away from the gas.
Armored personnel carriers and police SUVs are deploying riot cops around downtown and they quickly block intersections, dividing us up. Eight people, mostly high school students who have joined the crowd, are brutally arrested in a standoff next to the McDonalds.
The police are nervous. We are in broad daylight.