Bay Area TV Station Notes 'Professional Protester' Influence in Riot; Other Media Silent

January 8th, 2009 11:37 PM

OaklandRiotTVreportPic0109Here's something you don't see every day.

A video report about last night's riot in Oakland related to the shooting death of an unarmed man at the hands of a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer actually calls it .... a riot. What's more, the reporter notes, as is really often the case in situations such as these, how people he characterized as "professional protesters" egged others on and created the atmosphere that led to so much violence and vandalism.

CBS5 reporter Joe Vazquez filed "Inside the Oakland Riot: A First-Hand Account." It's a little too "gee whiz" to me, but it least it gets some usually unreported facts out.

Here is the full text of the video:

Anchor: Last night, Joe Vazquez followed those demonstrators every step of the way. Well Joe, police noticed the influence of so-called "professional protesters."

Vazquez: I have to tell you, one other intricacy in, in, and you hear about "mob mentality," this was a classic example of it. It looked like most people were there to just have their voices heard. But there was so much anger.

And there were also folks in the crowd inciting it, no doubt about it. There were some folks in fact that when police had dispersed you saw a lot of people run. But then there were some folks in the middle, the ones with their faces covered. Perhaps they had been in protests before; they certainly looked like it.

They were yelling, "Come back, come back. Confront these officers. Stand your ground. Come back here and get in these officers' faces." And when they did that, that provoked the police officers' actions.

So there's no doubt about it, there were some interesting levels of protest. These, you might call them "professional protesters," they were definitely inciting the riot. They were yelling, "Come back here! Support us! Stand your ground!" And that's when the confrontations happened.

Vazquez's blog entry at the same link on what transpired uses the term "instigators" instead of "professional protesters, and supplied these additional observations:

Demonstrators would occasionally disperse, but then instigators in the crowd who appeared to be anarchists called them back.

They wouldn't identify themselves, but those instigators wore bandanas on their faces and seemed more intent on provoking confrontations and throwing stuff at police than truly having their voices heard.

"Come stand with us," they implored. "Stand up for Oscar Grant!"

The crowd would then return. And they were getting bolder. Some protesters screamed just inches from the faces of officers. The cops stood still.

Others waved photos of Grant and called the officers "pigs" and "murderers."

..... Glass started raining down. Bottles, trash – anything protesters could get their hands on – were flying at officers. They kept marching. Officers mechanically stomped over a woman's bike as they chased her off. Other protesters who stood their ground were hit with billy clubs.

Occasionally, officers would burst into the crowd to go after the folks throwing garbage at police. In a tactical maneuver reminiscent of my rugby days, the officers would send four officers sprinting into the crowd, tackle the suspected offender, then retreat with the arrestee back behind the formation.

..... It was shocking to see, but the officers seemed to follow their training and were quite restrained, from my perspective.

To sum up the night, it was pandemonium that seemed uncontrolled, unplanned and unnecessary. Most of the protesters were not thrilled about having their peaceful demonstration thwarted by ugly behavior of a few. 

You will search in vain in the rest of the media for any reference to the professionally organized nature of the riot. Actually, you won't even see any "riot" reference except in "riot gear" worn by police at these links: the Associated Press ("Fatal police shooting sparks violent protests"), the New York Times ("Oakland Simmers after Night of Violence"), and the San Francisco Chronicle ("Protests over BART shooting turn violent").

But the Chronicle did leave its slip showing by having a sidebar link asking readers to share and view their "riot photos." Oops.

Cross-posted at