Here's the best news of the week: Rickey Henderson made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As the man who carried the Athletics into its late-'80s glory years, he got in just 28 votes shy of unanimity. One of Oakland's greatest and most dedicated athletes got his due on the first round. There ya go, big O.
Now for the rest of the story. Last Wednesday, hundreds of people who aren't Rickey Henderson roamed the streets of downtown Oakland, smashing stores, setting fires, terrifying passers-by, and fighting with the police in response to BART cop Johannes Mehserle's fatal and apparently unprovoked shooting of Hayward resident Oscar Grant.
The day started more in sorrow than anger. Organizers flyered up and down the East Bay and posted notices on Facebook and Indybay.org, gathering people for a rally at 3 pm., near the Fruitvale BART station. After a few hours of speeches, prayers, and songs, a few hundred people set off for downtown. By then it was dark, and so was the mood. The mob reached the Lake Merritt BART station and went to work, starting fires and tossing bottles at the cops.
After Ron Dellums appeared and promised that he'd seek justice for Grant's family, the mayor coaxed the crowd into following him down to city hall. But the mob's trail of destruction followed the mayor's path down 14th Street, and Dellums himself eventually disappeared inside to the sound of boos and jeers. People overturned garbage cans, trashed at least one cop car, randomly smashed the windows of parked vehicles, and set fire to Dumpsters and random cars. They hit a McDonald's and the independent store Creative African Braids. When the owner came out and asked why they were targeting her, rioter Nia Sykes snorted at a Chron reporter, "She should be glad she just lost her business, and not her life." The mob also struck 17th Street, at 16th and San Pablo, and along a stretch of Telegraph Avenue near the newly renovated Fox Theatre, which threw a gala bash just three nights later.
But you can forget about that feel-good moment. As the media whisked images of the immolation all over the country, Oakland became the new face of urban dysfunction. This whole affair wouldn't have been possible without YouTube, to which people posted videos of both the shooting and the subsequent riots. From now until the next sad parable, when people ask what to do about racial tension, our rotting cities, or violence in American society, they'll think of Oakland.
BART officials are casting about, trying to understand how to manage this anger. State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and state Senator Leland Yee have announced legislation to set up an independent BART police oversight board. At a meeting the next day, BART officials apologized for Grant's death and promised to consider such a step themselves. That wasn't enough to satisfy people, so the BART board held an emergency meeting on Sunday, at which roughly one hundred people vented their anger and suggested that another outbreak could happen if they didn't get justice. Meanwhile, BART has tabled discussions of its $37 million budget deficit, as well as the possibility that it will close some stations during the weekend. In downtown Oakland, business owners swept up the debris and shut down their shops, fearing another incident. And all, finally, was quiet.
The grinding economy made more dents in our lives last week. Cost Plus, the Oakland retail chain, announced that holiday sales took a serious hit. As a result, the chain will have to close 26 stores, or almost 10 percent of its fleet. Of course, store employees will have to hit the unemployment lines. Meanwhile, the downtown shipping firm APL announced that its regional headquarters will be relocated to Phoenix. Some four hundred jobs will vanish from downtown Oakland in the next few months.
Over in high-tech, a new report declared that just six venture-backed initial public offerings debuted in 2008, marking the industry's lowest point since the mid-1970s. In other sectors, declining consumer spending forced almost 10 percent of California's auto dealerships to close, and the price of milk was cut in half at the wholesale level, prompting the government to intervene and buy $92 million in surplus milk.
Thank God other things happened last week as well. Two wacky Berkeley protesters tried to set up a tree-sit in People's Park, in order to stop university officials from cutting down two diseased acacias; after a few hours, they changed their mind, and climbed down. The trees went the way of all flesh, er, bark. No fires burned, no stores were smashed, and no one was arrested. How refreshing.
What's This? Good News?
Believe it or not, there was exactly one silver lining last week. After years of lawsuits, University of California officials have bowed to a judge's ruling that 2003 student fee hikes were illegal. Officials have now begun mailing some $42 million in refunds. This may not be happy news for UC, but students and former students will see a check averaging out to $400 apiece. Which is as close as it comes to something pleasant in a bad, bad seven days.
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