The tragic shooting death of a 22-year-old black man by a white BART (transit) police officer on New Year's Day in Oakland, Calif., sparked tremendous outrage, protests, and animosity toward not only BART Police, but police throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
In the aftermath, three of the protests in Oakland and San Francisco, which began peacefully, ultimately turned violent. Two of the protests in downtown Oakland turned into riots. Oakland Police caught the brunt of the rioters' rage, as did numerous businesses and vehicles in downtown Oakland. None had anything to do with the BART Police shooting that sparked the outrage.
The SF Bay Area is known for being a center for radicals, militants, and extremists. The Bay Area also has the dubious distinction of having no fewer than 21 riots, disturbances, and violent protests since 2001.
Since it happened, the BART Police shooting has been the top news story in the Bay Area, with TV stations and Websites repeatedly showing cell phone video of the shooting. Video that has fanned the flames of outrage and discontent.
January 7, 2009:
After the funeral for the victim, a peaceful protest was held at the Fruitvale BART station. Peaceful until approximately 200 protesters splintered off and marched to downtown Oakland, carrying banners and signs displaying the universal anarchist circled "A" symbol. Many wore bandanas to cover their faces along with "uniforms" of black clothing.
The Oakland mayor tried unsuccessfully to reason with the crowd, but was loudly booed, and the protesters turned violent, rampaging through downtown streets, breaking business and vehicle windows, setting trash and vehicle fires, and throwing bottles at Oakland Police. The protest had turned into a riot.
News helicopters and ground crews aired the entire riot on live TV. Rampaging rioters were followed and dispersed by helmeted Oakland Police, spearheaded by OPD's ARV (Armored Rescue Vehicle) with its top hatch open, a helmeted officer with 37/40 mm launching chemical agents at the rioters—as were other OPD officers on foot.
What became crystal clear was that "key" rioters were leading the mobs to violence. Many who were clearly gang and street thug types shouted such slogans as "No Justice. No Peace. F*** The Police!" "Police Go Home!" "Police Murderers!" These "key" rioters exhorted the mobs to stand and fight police.
It took 200-plus Oakland Police more than five hours to finally restore order, but the damage had been done. Already, 45 businesses and 25 vehicles had been damaged or torched (including at least one OPD car), and 105 were arrested. But miraculously, no serious injuries were reported.
One radical from Berkeley who was interviewed called the rioting "righteous rebellion…stemming from a long history of oppression and police brutality." This is the mantra of the anarchists who are the very same "riot makers" who have wreaked violent havoc in many American and international cities—including the infamous WTO protests and rioting in Seattle in 1999.
The anarchist goal is to create mayhem and chaos, targeting the police, baiting them into "overreacting," then capturing it all on camera while chanting another anarchist mantra: "The Whole World Is Watching."
If these tactics sound familiar, they should. They're the same tactics radicals, militants, and anarchists have been employing since the 1960s. It's the anarchist strategic and tactical "formula" that was featured in the 1970s police training film "The Riot Makers."
January 12, 2009:
A peaceful protest march in downtown San Francisco was marred by violence when a small group splintered off and started overturning trash cans, throwing traffic barriers, and lighting small trash fires. Rapid, effective response by SFPD quickly blocked off downtown streets and dispersed and scattered protesters in all directions. SFPD caused the riot to fizzle and fail.
January 15, 2009:
A second peaceful Oakland protest was hijacked again, by bandana wearing anarchists waving red and black flags, leading hoodie-clad street thugs. Approximately 200 rioters went on another business and vehicle window smashing rampage through downtown Oakland. Rioters yelled "Police Go Home!" "Resist!" "WE Own The Streets!"
Rapid and massive response by riot-clad OPD made 18 arrests, quelling the rioting rapidly, but not until a dozen businesses and a dozen vehicles had been damaged. OPD's response undoubtedly prevented the riot from becoming wide spread and more destructive.
What does any of this mean to you? Today's anarchists, radicals, and militants remain committed to the goals of their predecessors of the 1960s. Chaos, mayhem and ultimately, revolution by any means possible. Including hijacking peaceful protests into rioting and rebellion.
This time, the targets were Oakland and San Francisco, with the BART Police shooting as the "excuse" to foment rioting. The next time, it could very easily be any town in USA—your town. All it will take will be the "right" incident to ignite into rioting.
The question for police everywhere, especially SWAT, is are you ready—right now? Are your Mobile Field Force tactics and preparations up to speed? Is your SWAT team prepared to spearhead your agency's riot response? OPD and SFPD were ready. I hope you can say the same.