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Protest turns to near-riot as hundreds gather in Oakland to decry BART shooting

Protest turns to near-riot as hundreds gather in Oakland to decry BART shooting

As the dramatic story of a BART officer fatally shooting a young man turned violent with protests that turned into near-riots Wednesday night, said Thursday that Oakland police will launch their own investigation into the shooting.

Oakland police's role will to be to aid the Alameda County District Attorney's office, which had previously been working exclusively with BART police, to determine whether criminal charges against the officer who pulled the trigger.

"We will review what has been done and we will develop our own witnesses as well," said Oakland police Chief Wayne Tucker. "That's what's intended now."

BART Police Chief Gary Gee welcomed the additional resources the Oakland Police Department will provide.

"I fully support his partnership," he said. "The BART and Oakland police departments have always enjoyed an excellent working relationship."

Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff said he expected a case to be "totally prepared" in about two weeks.

"I know people are unhappy with that," he said. "I know there's a lot of emotion. I have to sit back and look at this as objectively as I can with all the facts that are available and make the decision — not only whether or not he should be charged, but what offense he should he charged with ... and it's not as simple as most people think."

He said the former BART officer involved in the shooting, Johannes Mehserle, who resigned Wednesday, has, through his attorney, refused to be interviewed by Orloff's office.

At least 105 people were arrested for a variety of offenses Wednesday night. Police said charges for those arrested included assault on a police officer, looting, vandalism and arson. Some of those detained were found to have drugs, which added another count to the charges.

Angry about the New Year's Day shooting by a BART police officer, protesters smashed businesses and set fires in downtown Oakland, and confronted Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums on the steps of city hall.

Oakland police beefed up their prescence on the streets Thursday morning, with officers in riot gear patrolling the streets as they anticipated more protests. Businesses downtown were cleaning up, dealing with the aftermath of smashed windows and cars.

Leemu Tokpa had swept glass shards into two piles outside her shop, Creative African Braids, on 14th Street so that clients could get in the door.

She said a group of vandals smashed up her downtown Oakland shop and threw bottles at her while she was holding her 8-month-old baby.

"Nobody feels happy about the guy getting killed, but if they come back to attack me, as a black sister I feel very disappointed," Topka said. "I'm struggling here, too. And they come and wreck my business."

Her brother slept in the shop all night, to protect it from further vandalism she said.

BART shooting victim's family pleads for calm

The family of BART police shooting victim Oscar Grant pleaded today for calm to return to the streets of Oakland in the wake of a violent protest in which at least 300 downtown businesses were damaged, numerous cars were trashed and 105 people were arrested.

Their calls came as Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff promised a decision within as little as two weeks on whether prosecutors will file criminal charges against former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot the unarmed Grant to death at Fruitvale Station in Oakland early New Year's Day.

"I am begging the citizens not to use violent tactics," said Wanda Johnson, Grant's mother, during a press conference at the Oakland office of the family's attorney, John Burris. "I know it's a frustrating time, but Oscar would not want to see all the violence."

Johnson was joined by other relatives and friends, some of whom wore black T-shirts bearing a photograph of Grant and the words, "RIP Oscar."

"I have my own business. I can imagine what these people are going through," said Grant's aunt, Charmine Jones-Johnson, referring to shop owners whose stores were vandalized by protesters Wednesday night. "Stop wasting your time and hurting our family."

Grant, 22, was shot to death on the Fruitvale Station platform after he and acquaintances were pulled off a train following a fight with another group of riders about 2 a.m. New Year's Day. He was unarmed and lying on his chest when Mehserle, 27, pulled his service weapon and fired once into his back, a shooting that remains unexplained.

Burris has filed a $25 million claim against BART on behalf of Grant's mother and 4-year-old daughter. On Wednesday, as the family was holding Grant's funeral, Mehserle resigned from the police force rather than talk to internal affairs investigators.

A separate criminal investigation continues, but Mehserle does not have to speak to authorities in connection with that probe, either. Mehserle's attorney, Christopher Miller, did not return a call for comment today.

Mayor Ron Dellums announced this afternoon that Oakland police will join Alameda County prosecutors in the criminal inquiry. The move was supported by BART Police Chief Gary Gee, who joined Orloff, the mayor and other city officials at a news conference at City Hall marked by frequent interruptions by hecklers.

Authorities are investigating whether Mehserle may have fired at Grant without provocation or mistaken his service weapon for a Taser stun gun. The shooting was filmed by at least two BART riders with their cell phone cameras, and the footage has stirred outrage as TV news stations have aired it repeatedly.

Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker, newly elected Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan and Dellums deplored Wednesday night's violence, saying it was unfair that minority-owned businesses were vandalized because of an incident their owners had nothing to do with.

"That's no better than George Bush bombing Iraq to get back at al Qaeda," Kaplan said.

The mayor said the violence was "no different than somebody today picking up a gun in anger and blowing someone's brains out."

Dellums urged protesters not to "exploit someone's pain to inflict damage" and reminded them of the sense of optimism many felt when Barack Obama was elected president.

"Don't let these few weeks remove that hope from your chest," Dellums said.

The mayor said he recognized that people were upset and had "lost faith in the process" because of a lack of communication by BART officials and the Alameda County district attorney's office immediately after Grant was killed.

But Dellums said, "It's not about beating on someone's windshield. What does that have to do with justice? What we have to do is to take that anger and harness it."

Wednesday night's unrest resulted in arrests for a variety of offenses, including vandalism, arson, inciting a riot, gun possession and assault on a police officer, said Officer Jeff Thomason, Oakland police spokesman.

About 70 of the 105 people arrested were cited on misdemeanor charges and released, authorities said. The rest are being held on felonies at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin pending court appearances Friday, at which time formal charges might be lodged by prosecutors.

The unrest had its origins in a peaceful protest at the Fruitvale BART station. A splinter group broke away around sundown and marched to downtown Oakland, where chaos erupted.

Some protesters ignited trash bins, upended garbage cans, broke store windows and set cars on fire, including a brand-new Oakland police cruiser.

The protest forced BART to temporarily shut down the 12th Street, Lake Merritt and Fruitvale stations at various points Wednesday. All were reopened in time for this morning's commute.

The streets were littered with glass and trash as store owners worked overnight to clean up the mess.

Some owners slept at their businesses, fearful that their stores would be looted before they could make repairs.

Leemu Tokpa and several family members spent the night at Creative African Braids on 14th Street, the hair salon she started four years ago. Protesters smashed the store windows Wednesday night.

"I'm angry because I'm very disappointed," Tokpa said this morning. "I understand they were mad because a black man was killed, but I'm a black lady. If they're protesting, why would they come into the store?"

Asked what she would tell the protesters, she said, "They're stupid."

Henry's Gallery Cafe at 1700 Franklin St. had its window shattered and door broken by the mob.

Like other shopkeepers, owner Jung Yong Soo wondered why protesters had attacked businesses that had nothing to do with BART or the fatal shooting. "Why they broke my door and damage it?" he asked.
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