Oakland Police Arrested An Eclectic Group of Protesters

By Steven Tavares

They got a prominent civil rights attorney, a beat poet, a Berkeley activist, a pregnant woman, a Starbucks barista, a guy riding his bike home carrying a bag of groceries and a political blogger (that would be me). The band of usual suspects reeled in by the Oakland Police Department last Thursday was hardly the menacing posse of violent criminals and anarchists bent on widespread chaos. Instead, the group of 78 were a hodge-podge of every race, gender, age and social standing mirroring the composition of a college classroom more than a shadowy group using Oakland as a playground of destruction as the Chief Anthony Batts said over the weekend.

Attorney Walter Riley says he was grabbed by the scruff of his neck by the cops as he was heading into his office on Broadway. Riley, who braved the turbulent civil rights movement of the 1960s starting in North Carolina, was at the protest as an observer, he said. Riley was arrested resplendent in a crisply tailored gray suit and tie and expensive leather loafers. His arrest best illustrated the indiscriminate roundup of protesters based solely on being at the wrong place at the wrong time. In the police bus parked a block away from the line of police, Riley, handcuffed, twisted to produce business cards and passed them among his fellow inmates. His presence gave many there a sense of solace. What luck! The jailhouse lawyer is an actual lawyer!

Most of those arrested who were not charged with failure to disperse waited between 15 and 22 hours to be released with a citation. Officers periodically gave one of three explanations for the delay: the computer system crashed necessitating faxing fingerprints for identification, problems using a new system or the large influx of arrests that night. The Alameda County Sheriff Department did not respond Monday to an inquiry. One sheriff told me booking usually takes between 8 and 10 hours, but many arrested believed the snails pace was due to police punishing the group. “They think we came here because we’re against the cops,” pointed out one man who was arrested. “We’re here because we’re against killers.”

As the bedraggled group begin dozing off on the floor and intermittently snoozing, Riley chose to stand. He closed his eyes and slightly and slowly rocked side-to-side on the balls of his feet. At around 4 a.m. Friday he led an impromptu 45-minute seminar on the history of Haiti. Did you know Haiti has the highest number of NGOs in the world and most Haitians despise the Red Cross? Haitian History 101 quietly captivated some while others asked questions and offered opinions. Another man with large gash still fresh on his forehead from a cop’s baton even attempted to learn a few Haitian phrases.

Despite what Chief Batts says, the blanket implication 78 hostile and pernicious people came to Oakland Thursday night to cause trouble and were dutifully nabbed by his officers is a colossal misnomer. In fact, over 400 heavily armed and armored police officers were unable to stifle the breaking of windows and small-scale theft by less than a dozen people in an area no larger than one-and-a-half blocks. Batts also offered the media a tantalizing statistics obediently used by many reporters, including the San Francisco Chronicle’s Henry K. Lee.

Seventy-five percent of those arrested were from outside of Oakland said Batts. Oscar Grant, himself, was from Hayward. On itself it means almost nothing unless you attached it to the meme put forth by the chief in the weeks before that “outside agitators” were eyeing probable protests in the city. Batts never described what an anarchists looked like despite saying they were eyeballed throughout the night. I witnessed officers on 13th Street around 7 p.m. pointing at a group of seven young men and woman standing in the open street dressed like slackers. Is it the plan of anarchists to openly announce their presence presumably to be caught by the authorities? Later, I asked the group if they were anarchists. They laughed. I think they were stoned.

The most damning statistic coming from Thursday’s protest is this: 1.2 percent of those arrested were pregnant. Obviously an anarchist with the demon seed of Guy Fawkes growing inside of her, right?