"Peaceful protest turns violent," read the San Francisco Chronicle headline about the May 1 protest in Oakland that ended badly. Police arrested about a dozen people after activists trashed new cars and smashed bank windows. I love that headline. It makes it seem as if it's an anomaly when an Oakland protest ends with errant sparks and glass shards -- even though a social-justice demonstration in Oakland has a better chance of ending with vandalism than a Hollywood marriage has in ending in divorce.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf had warned that violence would not be tolerated, but to no effect. On Saturday morning, she and police Chief Sean Whent had to admit that they had failed to anticipate -- and thus prevent -- the violence. "A very small group of people with rocks in their pockets and malice in their hearts disturbed what was otherwise a positive day in Oakland," said Schaaf.
If Schaaf wants a different outcome, she should tell the protest community this: When the sun goes down, go home. Make it easier for police to curb what I would call "protest brutality."
Otherwise positive? "They keep saying that. They say that every time," responded former Oakland City Attorney John Russo -- even though the outcome of these rampages is "disorder, disinvestment and rampant disrespect for Oakland."
Friday's events began at the MacArthur rapid transit station, where protesters, some carrying signs with such positive messages as "Die Techie Scum," tried to sabotage the commute of people whose offense must be that they have jobs. The effort fizzled.
A May Day march from the Port of Oakland to City Hall was both pro-labor and anti-police brutality. As the Chronicle reported, Yoel Haile of the Afrikan Black Coalition summed up the spirit of the event when he said, "Until we get a livable wage and they stop shooting us down in the streets, we need to rethink our strategy on how we're going to get free."
I have no doubt that most protesters were peaceful. Some seemed intent on minimizing the damage. As vandals started smashing windows, other protesters called out: "Don't harm small businesses."
They mean well, I suppose, but they serve as unwitting cover for the masked anarchists in their midst. They say they want justice, but after dark, they become enablers for violence. Everyone knows that the protests will turn ugly -- and costly for Oakland taxpayers. So why do people, in a city as blue as Oaktown, feel the need to participate in protests that end up hurting their city and their neighbors?
Joe Abraham came to the United States from Lebanon in 1978. He told me he opened American Auto Upholstery & Glass on Broadway 24 years ago. On Friday night, vandals smashed his shop's windows for the third time. "If they are mad at the police, let them go to the police station," Abraham told me. And: "What are they gaining besides breaking my window?"
How many times do activists expect small businesses to absorb the costs of brute vandalism before they pack up and leave? Russo asked: "Smashing up the business of the guy who does upholstery and windows for cars" for a living -- just what cause does that advance?