I debated to myself whether to post anything from the latest skirmish in Oakland Friday night (Nov. 5). Some of what I experienced that night last week was frenetic and harried. Another part, partially amusing. At least one experience had me literally shaking in my shoes.
You would probably think that covering the march and unrest of the two-year sentence handed down to former Bart police officer Johannes Mehserle in the shooting death of Oscar Grant would be tricky in itself. It was.
The rally at the Oakland courthouse was a pretty low key event. There were numerous speakers, rap artists and organizers on hand to protest the sentence. Several hundred people showed up and listened as speaker after speaker reiterated their dislike of California’s justice system. After the rally broke off at 6PM, people milled about in groups for about five minutes.
In the blink of an eye, demonstrators poured out onto Broadway and 14th, started bouncing on and denting cars stopped at a light. Soon, the entire crowd was in the middle of the intersection chanting “Justice for Oscar Grant!” and running south.
I mean, this group just took off on a brisk seven mile per hour march. The crowd was young. Some of the demonstrators were sporting smiles, anger flashed on others.
Soon, the group of several hundred had made it to Laney College, where police promptly and effectively boxed everyone in. As some realized what was happening, a construction fence, several hundred feet long was pulled to the ground which signaled the protest was not going to be stopped so easily. The crowd streamed through the break in the chain link and skirted the police line.
I was in an area not familiar to me. Aside from a couple of pushing and shoving matches with teenagers in the crowd, in which one tried to yank a camera from my neck, I was satisfied that my pictures were good enough to hold page one. Returning, I attempted to stay with groups of people that were done with the protest too.
Soon enough, I was poignantly aware being alone on the sidewalk. Up ahead, a man of about 35, clearly angry, had turned toward me and started yelling obscenities. An instant later, he was within arms length accusing me of stalking him.
He was clearly unstable, what police would call 5150. I didn’t acknowledge him and kept walking, crossing the street. All the while, the man threatened to cut my throat with a knife he said he possessed (he claimed it was in his jacket). For almost a block and a half, he paralleled my route six to seven feet away, his threats never ceasing and the rant getting louder with several more death by knife and strangulation threats thrown in for good measure. Finally, I stopped a few feet away from three prostitutes and what I can assume as their, ah, manager. Power in numbers, I decided.
Besides my ranting death buddy, the ladies of the evening were the only people anywhere around.
Death buddy (DB) stopped too. I turned towards him, lifted my arms, each loaded with a three pound camera, and said, “Okay, that’s enough. C’mon then.” I motioned my cameras towards me.
He gawked. For the first time in almost five minutes, he was rendered speechless. It’s funny what you notice when harm is under foot. His eyes were blood shot and dilated, veins in his forehead were bulging, pulsing; had a tattoo under his chin (odd place for a tattoo I thought). He stood about 5-10 with a receding hairline, sported a four day growth of beard, a sore on his bottom lip and an evident passing interest in personal hygiene and dentistry. Finding his voice once again, DB blurted something that would be censored in an adult movie and backed off, strangulating the English language all the while. He slithered to an ally way and was gone.
I turned around. The ladies were amused. Their male friend joined with a smile and said, “You did real good mister.”
I couldn’t have scripted it any better.
I had to laugh when one of the ladies asked if I wanted to get rid of some stress for cheap. I said no thanks and finished the walk back to my company car.
I was a wreck, couldn’t get a signal on my laptop to send photos, so I started back to Santa Rosa. Halfway there, I had to stop and regroup and send photos. I was emotionally shot. I used the lobby in Courtytard by Marriot near Hamilton Drive in Marin to send photos, pretty sure it was safe. In the lounge area, two men were cruising on Facebook and hockey highlights were blaring from a big screen TV. Surreal. What a goofy weird job this can be.
Death buddy would have made a great news picture. I’m also very positive that it would not have been in my best interest to take photos of said man.
In hindsight I probably should have kept walking. I reasoned that if I was going to get hurt, it was going to be on my terms.
Funny, during the march, I never really thought I was at risk even though it was obvious a few people were not happy with journalists documenting the mayhem.
Another day, another dollar.