Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Confronting protesters: Embarrassed and mad at Oakland

Beauty's Bagel Shop / Local Oakland business was vandalized but not looted.

I feel embarrassed to admit to my friends that I live in Oakland, Calif. And, it has nothing to do with the mediocrity of the hometown NFL Raiders and their dismal 1-11 record this season.

Instead, I live in a city in which the Oakland Police Department is afraid to confront protesters who willingly and brazenly break the law. It happened during the Occupy protests in 2011 and, again, in 2013, during the aftermath of the death of 17-year-old African American Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Sanford, Fla.

Once again, the Oakland protesters showed they're in charge. They showed no fear. For three consecutive nights last week, what started as peaceful protests against a Ferguson, Mo. grand jury decision that decided not to indict a white police officer, Darren Wilson, for the killing of an 18-year-old black teenager, Michael Brown, turned into chaos, vandalism and looting. By the third night, by all accounts, the streets of Ferguson were a safer place to be than Oakland's streets.

I stayed home, monitored the situation via local and cable TV news, Twitter and Facebook, and did not go out for three consecutive nights. I stayed away from the downtown Oakland fitness center I regularly use most early evenings after work. Even though I reside about four miles from the downtown City Center along Broadway -- Ground Zero for most Oakland protests -- I feared for my safety. Looking back, I'm glad I didn't get caught in traffic gridlock on the I-580 the first night when protesters on foot managed to shutdown a portion of this busy interstate freeway that cuts across a wide swatch of Oakland.

Shame on our lame duck mayor, Jean Quan. Sure, she pushed for police officers to show tolerance towards the hundreds of protesters who turned out each night last week before Thanksgiving, then moved on across the bay to San Francisco last Friday and Saturday -- and I am all for being tolerant. But when push comes to shove, I want our police to uphold the law -- not look the other way for fear of a lawsuit.

Sadly, local merchants and small business owners suffered the brunt of the senseless violence that befell Oakland for three consecutive nights. One of them was Beauty's Bagel Shop, which is located on a busy stretch of Telegraph Avenue, between West MacArthur Boulevard and 40th Street, in the city's Temescal neighborhood. I am friends with the owners, Amy Remsen and Blake Joffe.

Last Tuesday night, during a march up Telegraph Avenue from downtown, vandals tagged the front entrance of Beauty's (3838 Telegraph Avenue) with spray paint and wrote in big block letters: RIP MICHAEL BROWN. It could have been much worse as the protesters started a street fire less than a block away near the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and 38th Street before moving on up Telegraph where there were more acts of senseless vandalism and looting, too.

Fortunately there were no broken windows and no looting took place at Beauty's. Just graffiti. To its credit, the popular bagel bakery, which has been a local success story since it opened in August 2012, was open for business Wednesday morning just hours after the defacement. However, I can't imagine that it felt like business as usual after what took place the night before.

On its Twitter feed, Beauty's responded to its customers, tweeting: "We were luck enough to only suffer graffiti. Sending our thoughts to those businesses that sustained more damage."

I stayed away from Beauty's for a few days, then returned after Thanksgiving, as usual, early on Saturday morning to buy bagels and scones for the weekend. By then, the graffiti had been removed at Beauty's, and while things seemed normal and business was brisk, still, one wonders if they will be so lucky the next time there's an ugly protest.

There's a big difference between what's happening in other cities and what's happening in Oakland. I support the right to free speech and civilized protest. It's what sets my country apart from others less fortunate, less democratic. However, when people stop acting in a civilized manner and behave in a disrespectful way towards law-abiding citizens and deface public property, then it's time to for my city's elected officials to take decisive action and keep my city safe.

Photo: Courtesy of sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com

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