Protests in Oakland over the officer-involved shooting death of Oscar Grant at a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station turned violent overnight, resulting in a wake of destroyed vehicles and damaged businesses. Video of the shooting was captured by other train passengers and has been widely viewed via YouTube, as well as various news and other Web sites.
On Thursday, the Mercury News reported that some businesses closed early or sent employees home based on concerns over their safety and the possibility of further violence. Last night, Oakland police arrested more than 100 individuals and, while some were later cited and released, others remain held pending charges by the DA. But why were certain protestors treated differently than others, in light of what must have been the unruly scene of the riot?
The reason probably lies in the fact that, amidst all the chaos of the night, there were likely varying degrees of criminal behavior going on. On one hand, some individuals may have been detained for behaviors constituting only a misdemeanor, while others may have ended up being under arrest for having committed felonies. The difference between the two is usually based on the potential punishment for the crime, and sometimes by the place of incarceration. When a law provides for imprisonment in prison for longer than a year, that crime is usually considered a felony. If the potential punishment is for a year or less, and incarceration is in jail, then the crime is likely considered a misdemeanor.
Apparently, last night the range of crimes ran the gamut as a number of those arrested were cited and released for misdemeanors, while on the other hand guns and drugs were seized from others. Some of the charges at issue include assault on a police officer, looting, vandalism, rioting and arson. Those arrested for felonies are still being held, but police haven't indicated a specific count. California law requires that charges be filed within 48 hours, but prosecutors can change the initial charges they bring later, for example, at a preliminary hearing weeks later.
Oakland police estimate property damage from Wednesday's vandalism to be around $150,000 or higher, but at this point in time, many might be more concerned about the damage to community relations and even Oscar Grant's family is calling for an end to the violence on the streets of Oakland.