OAKLAND, CA - In Oakland’s east and west neighborhoods, crime did not take a holiday on July 8, the day the verdict was announced in the trial of former BART cop Johannes Mehserle and some 1,000 protestors massed in the city’s downtown, according to data recently released by the Oakland Police Department.
While that day’s events spotlighted 78 arrests during the action, 57 of those were for misdemeanor charges of “unlawful assembly” for illegally congregating to protest near 14th and Broadway. Just a handful of people were booked on serious crimes, such as arson related to contained violence that erupted after dark.
But for Oakland’s most crime-plagued neighborhoods, dozens of crimes unrelated to Mehserle’s verdict were a business-as-usual scenario.
At East 14th near High, Santos Ascencio, 30, was arrested on two counts of felony rape. On Bancroft Avenue in deep East Oakland, Gordon Reed, 31, was arrested for battery. At Market and West Grand, a young man was busted for dealing and transporting cocaine. Across the city, at least four men were brought in on charges of domestic violence. On College Avenue, in upscale Rockridge, Kevin Jordan, 39, was booked on two counts of petty theft.
Oakland Police Department spokesperson Holly Joshi cautioned not to make too much of those incidents.
“The document shows that the majority of arrests made that day were related to the civil unrest,” she said.
The arrest log, which was provided to New America Media in response to a records request, provided a different perspective on the Mehserle protests, which many commentators had anticipated would be an explosive race riot if the ex-cop were acquitted of second-degree murder. He was, but the protestors were overwhelmingly peaceful, as were their actions. A small minority was responsible for the violence, reports show.
Some Oakland observers say the arrest log shows that law enforcement went overboard in mobilizing against a possible riot. In the weeks before the verdict, the Oakland police organized mock-riot exercises involving more than 450 officers from 20 law enforcement agencies, including every police agency in Alameda County, sheriffs’ deputies and the California Highway Patrol. The Port of Oakland was turned into a staging area for mass deployments.
“Police operations like this are often political gestures designed to make a point to decision-makers about the importance of the police and their budget expenditures and to drive home a dramatic point to a skittish public,” said “Davey D” Cook, a well-known hip hop journalist.
Cook noted that the OPD’s mass mobilization preceding the Mehserle verdict occurred at the same time the department was threatened with large budget cuts.
“The night of the riots the police had created a narrative that was designed to win sympathy and prove that Oakland would be in dire straights if cuts were made,” Cook said.
Budget cuts, including mass layoffs of OPD officers, were approved within weeks of the Mehserle verdict.
Overall, violent crime is down in Oakland this year. Forty-nine people have been murdered in Oakland to date this year, down 16 percent compared to the same period last year. Rapes are down 25 percent, while robberies and aggravated assaults have both fallen by 11 percent, and the number of auto thefts has fallen by a third.