Crackdown in Oaktown
A Sacramento photographer finds himself at ground zero during last week’s near-riot in Oakland
On the night of Wednesday, January 7, SN&R contributing photographer Kyle Monk was visiting colleagues in downtown Oakland when all hell broke loose. Police helicopters hovered above his friend’s apartment building; squad cars with sirens blaring roared down the street in front.
“My friend’s window is right above the street,” Monk explains. “We saw a SWAT car go around the block. Then there was this guy running down the street, three cops closing up behind him. Cops were coming from the other direction, too. He was surrounded, so he put his hands up. The cops just took him down anyway.”
By that time, Monk and his friends, digital cameras in hand, were down on the street and in the thick of a melee sparked by the New Year’s Day killing of 22-year-old African-American Oscar Grant by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer. Grant, from Hayward, was on his way home from a fireworks show with friends when a fight broke out, and BART police attempted to break it up. When he protested the arrest, police wrestled him to the ground, one officer drew his gun and either accidentally or purposely shot Grant in the back.
The Bay Area has a long history of police shootings, and critics have continually decried the lack of public oversight for law enforcement in general and the BART police in particular. They haven’t gotten very far, but Grant’s killing may change that. Bystanders watching the incident unfold used cell phone cameras and video recorders to document the event, then uploaded them onto the Internet, where they were subsequently picked up by local TV news outlets.
Last week’s riot began after an organized demonstration of several hundred people gathered near 14th and Jackson streets got out of control, and protesters began taunting police and throwing bottles at them. By the time Monk hit the street, the windows on a nearby McDonald’s had been smashed out and cars were burning. And—call it a sign of the times—nearly everyone who came out of their residence to see what was going on was armed with a cell phone, digital camera or video recorder.
“At one point, one police officer shoved me, told me to back off and get off the street,” Monk says. The photographer refused to heed the warning, and the results speak for themselves.
The rioting was confined to a one-square-block area and was over in approximately 45 minutes, Monk says. Although there have been some reports of looting, Monk didn’t see any. The protesters finished up at City Hall, where they chanted “Fuck the police” as Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums attempted to calm the crowd.
“I’ve never been in a situation like that before,” Monk says. “I probably need to be a little more aware. I was running around, trying to work through loopholes in the crowd and get good camera angles. I could have been blindsided by a car.”