When I wrote about the New Year's Day BART police shooting in Northern California, I concluded with these words: "Stay tuned, because this is just the beginning of what promises to be a long ordeal."
Unfortunately, this proved correct—sooner than I'd predicted. What began as a peaceful protest over the BART police shooting was hijacked by radicals, militants, and anarchists who rioted and fought police in downtown Oakland, Calif., for six hours.
In the wake of the rioting, more than 100 people were arrested, at least 45 businesses were damaged and their windows shattered, as were dozens of vehicles. Numerous trash fires were set, and five vehicles were torched. Bottles and other objects bombarded police.
Oakland Police bore the brunt of the rioting, responding with 200 riot-clad Oakland officers on foot, followed by marked vehicles, launching/throwing chemical agents, making forays into the roving mobs to extract and arrest "select" rioters. All of this was captured by local TV live, as it happened, providing me a bird's eye view—from the safety of my living room.
At one point, the mayor of Oakland was surrounded by protesters in the middle of an intersection. OPD rushed to his assistance, but he turned them away, and then walked several blocks back to City Hall—followed closely by about 50 angry protesters. In front of City Hall, the Mayor tried to reason with them, but was drowned out. He then went inside City Hall. Shortly afterward, protesters battled police, who responded with chemical agents.
An update on the BART shooting itself:
By now, many of you have seen the videos of what took place at the Fruitvale BART station that fateful night. You've likely drawn your own conclusions, as have nearly all who have viewed the original and latest videos that continue to be repeated non-stop by the media.
The day of the funeral, BART officials announced that the officer involved in the shooting had resigned from BART PD, without talking to investigators. It was revealed recently that he had invoked his Fifth Amendment right to silence, at his attorney's advice.
The community uproar has not only continued, but it has picked up steam, with numerous protests against BART, especially BART Police. Since the shooting, officers have been subjected to directed anger and name calling, including "Killers!"
Last week in San Francisco, 200 protesters held another rally and march. Then, just as in the Oakland riot, a group broke off and started overturning trash containers, setting small trash fires, and tossing traffic barricades. However, SFPD was prepared and followed the march closely with riot police, vans, and motorcycle officers who quickly contained and dispersed the rioters, ending another potential riot.
Everything to do with SWAT
In my last column, I also asked what the BART shooting had to do with SWAT. The answer then was "nothing directly." Given the events of this past week, the revised answer is "everything."
SWAT is, or should be, the spearhead of police riot response. And while riots are relatively rare, when they happen they take center stage, and everything else comes to a grinding halt. The Jan. 1 Oakland riot was a series of pitched, running battles with anarchist-led rioters bent on destruction and mayhem.
In the lead element of OPD's response was an Armored Rescue Vehicle, its top hatch open, and a helmeted officer with 37/40 mm launcher at the ready. An impressive sight, with SWAT where it belonged: leading the OPD Mobile Field Forces.
Time for Training
Times like this are when all that MFF and Riot training pays dividends—especially when SWAT is an integral part of the riot response, as it appeared to be in Oakland. Rapid, decisive, organized response is also the most effective.
Response like this doesn't happen by accident. It's the result of sound strategic planning and tactics, spearheaded by SWAT. Now would be a good time to make sure your team's riot response capabilities are up to speed.
Riots can happen anywhere, at any time. All it takes is a convergence of the right set of circumstances, and the right "spark" to ignite the flames. Especially where there is tension between police and segments of a community. The spark usually results from a disputed use of force, especially deadly force, by police. Prime examples are the 1992 LA Riots and 2001 Cincinnati Riots.
Remember, there are those—extremists, radicals, militants—who hijack legitimate causes for their own purposes. Their purpose is to capitalize on dissent and turn it into chaos in the form of rioting and rebellion.
It's up to law enforcement, including SWAT, to be ready to handle the situation.