Small businesses bearing brunt of protest destruction

Oakland police said Tuesday they believe organized groups are targeting businesses and causing much of the destruction seen in the past days of vandalism and looting.

Oakland Deputy Police Chief Leronne Armstrong spoke at a city news conference and said a peaceful crowd of some 15,000 protesters exercised their free speech rights at Frank Ogawa Plaza during a demonstration Monday afternoon. He said it was a different group when the police later ordered the crowd to disperse in the evening as the curfew approached.

"Officers were engaged again with rocks and bottles and at that time we made arrests," said Armstrong, "We issued approximately 60 some-odd cites...Nobody was transported to jail. They were cited and released."

"We also took photos. After the announcements we made sure that there were no elderly and children that were participating in that particular group," said Armstrong, "That was important because we wanted to distinguish this was not the same group that was at Frank Ogawa Plaza participating in the very peaceful march. This was was an entirely different group."

"We believe those are sort of an organized element that moves around  and really co-opts meaningful peaceful demonstrations for acts of violence and that's really the areas and the folks that we're targeting," said Interim Police Chief Susan Manheimer, "We are collecting that race and demographic data because we do believe those are outsiders who would endanger our businesses and our community."

Small businesses, many minority-owned, are bearing the costs of the destruction and struggling to survive after the crippling coronavirus shutdowns.

Tribune Tavern owner Chris Pastena says he got a call about 10:30 Saturday night about damage to his restaurant.

He arrived to a heartbreaking sight. Vandals smashed the windows and were inside taking items from the restaurant that he and his wife Jana, one of Oakland's black business owners, had poured their life into opening.

"To be honest with you, there were a lot of young white men being the instigators about this," said Pastena.

One of them kicked a window. Pastena says he asked him to leave.

"Then (he) punched me in the face as he was walking away," said Pastena

"Those were all the emotions and thoughts going through my mind how difficult a situation this is for everybody," said Pastena, who says he and his wife share in the pain over George Floyd's death and injustice.

Oakland City Council member Lynnette Gibson McElhaney says these attacks on businesses hurt the whole community.

"Our businesses are being impacted that employ us, that hire us, that are owned by us.  

City leaders say even attacks on big chain stores such as Target hurt.

"We fought for 20 years to bring major retail to downtown, 85% of the employees were Oaklanders, many of who were young Oaklanders and this was essential income for their families," said Gibson McElhaney.

A group of small business restaurant owners sent a letter to the Oakland City Council, co-organized by Pastena, prior to the vandalism,  listing requests for help from the city to survive.

"It was over 150 to 200 small businesses, employees and stakeholders in Oakland," said Pastena who helped coordinate the letter.

Their letter included requests for commercial rent and eviction protection, a freeze and forgiveness of city taxes during coronavirus closures, help with permitting and PPE costs, as well as liability protection if a customer contracts the coronavirus.

Some city council members have said they will look at ways to address the concerns.

Meantime, outside the Tribune Tavern on 13th Street, the Pastenas and other community members are working together in an attempt to heal.

After a post on social media about the damage, 70 volunteers showed up to help paint boarded up windows.

"That eventually blossomed over the last four days to 200-plus volunteers and 50 gallons of paint," said Jonathan DeLong, an Oakland resident coordinating the murals.

DeLong says volunteers are creating canvases out of the boarded up windows for local artists to come create images for the community. 

He says he hopes more local artists will come to the site and contribute to the paintings, giving voice to the pain of this moment and hope for the future.