OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – Protesters angered by a transit officer’s killing of an unarmed black man set fire to cars and Dumpsters, threw garbage and smashed windows throughout the city Wednesday, chased by police in riot gear. Two-year BART veteran Johannes Mehserle shot 22-year-old Oscar Grant in the back as he lay on a station platform early on New Year’s Day, according to media reports.
BART officers were called in response to a fight on a train, which they subsequently stopped at Fruitvale Station.
The scene, an Internet sensation in recent days, grew more intense as angry passengers screamed at the officers from the stopped train. Mehserle then allegedly shot Grant; the bullet went through him, hit the platform and re-entered his body. Grant was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died that morning.
The video outraged the public, and public anger increased Wednesday after Mehserle invoked counsel and quit the force before meeting with internal affairs investigators, who would have forced him to talk.
Mayor Ron Dellums sent a spokesperson to Grant’s funeral to read a statement and another spokesman to quell the protesters’ anger at the BART station instead of going himself.
The protest began outside the Fruitvale BART station, which officials closed during rush hour. Protesters blocked the gates, some demanding that BART close completely, then marched down International Boulevard, delaying traffic.
Officers dispersed most of the protesters by chasing them, live on TV, detained and arrested some, and sprayed tear gas, according to several TV reporters.
Some protesters splintered off from the main group and went to downtown Oakland, where they threw bottles and shouted invectives at the police. Others lit cars on fire as residents raced to get inside and restaurants shuttered their windows.
Officers in riot gear eventually surrounded the downtown group and marched up Broadway in the city’s center, closing off block after block on their way.
Mayor Dellums arrived around 8:30 p.m. to try to calm a small but persistent group of protestors who demanded action. Several dozen police officers arrived and surrounded the group while Dellums spoke, which agitated the protesters. The mayor ordered the extra officers away and the group followed him down the street toward City Hall, where Dellums said he understood their frustration,. He urged them to let the investigation continue and to go home peacefully.
The group booed the mayor, who went inside. The protesters eventually went home, but reports of police spraying tear gas and vandalism continued into the night.
The fallout from the shooting gets stranger every hour in this area all too familiar with police shootings, including one last July involving an unarmed drunken driving suspect who ran from an officer and was shot in the back and killed. Oakland is home to the notorious “Riders,” a group of officers accused but acquitted of routinely framing and beating drug suspects and falsifying records.