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Oakland riots sparked by Oscar Grant verdict

Riots in Oakland were sparked by a former BART officer's lesser involuntary manslaughter conviction in the death of an unarmed man. Johannes Mehserle was convicted Thursday in the 2009 New Year's Day killing of 22-year-old Oscar Grant at an Oakland BART platform.
July 9, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Riots in Oakland broke out following a former BART officer's lesser involuntary manslaughter conviction in the death of an unarmed man.

Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted Thursday of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. Prosecutors sought a second-degree murder conviction, and the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter touched off angry protests that led to dozens of arrests in Oakland.

At least a dozen stores were damaged, including a ransacked jewelry store and a looted Foot Locker store on Broadway and 14th Street in downtown Oakland. Looters trashed the store, leaving glass and shoes scattered everywhere.

Protesters also smashed the windows of a 24 Hour Fitness on Webster Street and set several small fires in trash bins. Also, a small incendiary device near a police station was set off, but it caused no damage.

Broken glass was everywhere from lobbies of high rise office buildings to smaller shops.

At a local coffee shop Jitters and Shakes, owner Mike Issa tried to put on his best smile as loyal customers tried to comfort him. Vandals broke shelves and windows and stole food from Issa's shop.

"I don't like it. Nobody likes it. Breaking other people's property and let us work for what? What are you going to get? Ice cream? Juices to steal?" Issa said.

Longtime Oakland residents hated to see what was happening to their community.

"Why tear up your own stuff? We live here in Oakland. I understand the frustration and everything, but you don't have to tear up your own stuff," said Oakland resident Milbert Middlebrooks.

Police blame most of the trouble on outside anarchists, who they say just wanted to create mayhem. Authorities say about 75 percent of those creating trouble were not from Oakland.

"There's a time we say that people coming from outside impact our city, our town, a place that we live, that we work, that we play in, needs to stop," said Oakland Police Department Chief Anthony Batts.

Friday morning, Oakland resident Kwesi Hutchful documented the damage done to the 7-Eleven store on Harrison Street, where part of a cinder block went flying through the front window.

"It was a little upsetting because a lot of the perpetrators were actually not from Oakland. They were anarchists who were simply unhappy with the system and decided that Oakland would be a good reason to express their rage," said Hutchful.

Throughout downtown Oakland, spray painted messages littered the city protesting the police and the involuntary manslaughter verdict.

"I think it's a shame that people should destroy property, no matter what the verdict is," said Oakland resident Keifer Mcintyre.

Authorities said 83 arrests were made throughout the night for violations that included vandalism, failure to disperse and assaulting a police officer.

During the trial, Mehserle testified that he struggled with Grant and saw him digging in his pocket as officers responded to reports of a fight at a train station. Fearing Grant may have a weapon, Mehserle said he decided to shock Grant with his Taser but pulled his .40-caliber handgun instead. Grant was shot while he was on the floor, face down.

In a letter written by Mehserle July 4 and released by his lawyer Friday, the former officer said that he will forever "live, breathe, sleep and not sleep" with the memory of Grant dying on the train platform. Mehserle also said he'll live every day "knowing that Mr. Grant should not have been shot."

"I know a daughter has lost a father and a mother has lost a son. It saddens me knowing that my actions cost Mr. Grant his life. No words can express how truly sorry I am," Mehserle also wrote in the letter.

The U.S. Department of Justice's department's civil rights division will review the case along with the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Francisco and the FBI. Officials will determine if the case warrants federal prosecution. The investigation will commence once Mehserle's state case concludes. The former BART officer still faces sentencing, which is set for Aug. 6.

The charge carries a sentence of two to four years, although the judge could add 10 more years because a gun was used in the killing.

After the jury's finding, Grant's mother Wanda Johnson denounced the verdict and said the system failed her and her family.

"He was murdered. My son was murdered. And the law has not held the officer accountable the way that he should have been held accountable," said Johnson.

The trial was moved to Los Angeles after racial tensions boiled over into violence in Oakland.

AP contributed to this report.

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