Caravans of cars full of looters – it’s not something East Bay police see every day – San Francisco Chronicle

As bad as the violence and looting have been in recent days, if not for luck it could have been a lot worse.

Police sources say at around 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oakland police responded to calls for assistance from police in Emeryville who were dealing with looting on 40th Street at stores like Best Buy, Target and Decathlon.

Even with Oakland’s support, the officers were outnumbered and had to pick and choose their battles. They secured one store only to stand by helplessly as hundreds of people walked and drove to another store and looted it.

As the Oakland officers were setting up skirmish lines they heard at least six gunshots from behind them and saw muzzle flashes directed toward them.

Luckily, no one was hit.

“We could have had a number of dead cops,” Oakland Police Officers Association President Barry Donelan said.

The officers chased and caught a suspect, a 17-year-old male from Oakland. A P80 semiautomatic pistol that appeared to have been made from a kit was found at the scene.

“We can confirm that shots were fired, and the individual was arrested, a firearm was recovered,” Oakland police said in an email. “The investigation continues to determine the intentions of the shooter.”

Police officers leave a damaged Decathlon sporting goods store in Emeryville on Saturday after widespread vandalism during the George Floyd protests.

Shots fired in Emeryville while looting was going on was just one episode in the string of chaotic scenes that appeared to be organized groups of looters who swarmed shopping districts and malls throughout the East Bay. The looters’ targets were often miles from the demonstrations in Oakland and elsewhere over the death of George Floyd, who died last week after being restrained by police in Minneapolis.

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“A lot of people want to mix the two together, but there are two distinct groups here. This is just criminal activity,” said Berkeley police spokesman Byron White, who was posted at the Fourth Street shopping district Sunday night.

White said mobile caravans — some as long as 10 cars — rolled off Interstate 80 throughout the night.

“There were three or four people to a car,” White said. “They would see us and, they would get all big-eyed and speed out of the area. We were able to stop some of the cars. We recovered stolen property, guns, even one stolen vehicle,” White said. “They were from all over the place, El Sobrante, Rodeo, Hercules.”

None of the people in the cars appeared to have anything to do with the protests, White said.

It was total chaos in East Oakland.

“In 35 years, I’ve never seen anything like it. They were from all over the place,” said Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid, who spent the weekend on streets of his East Oakland district.

“They cleaned out the small businesses in the Durant Square Mall. They hit the Bayfair Mall in San Leandro. They hit a marijuana grow operation on Earhart Road, by the airport,” Reid said. “One guy ran from the cops, then later came back to get his car. The cops got him. There was a loaded Glock on the passenger seat. Unbelievable.”

Donelan, who spent much of Sunday in a squad car racing up and down Oakland’s International Boulevard from one looting incident to another, agreed that most of the looters they stopped appeared to be from out of town.

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“We had eight or 10 (suspects) lined up on the curb on International Boulevard outside of a sporting goods store,” Donelan said. “I went down the line and asked where they came from. The answers were Rodeo, Antioch, Brentwood, and on and on. Nobody was from Oakland.”

Wherever the looters were from, they knew what they were doing.

“Some of the groups are pretty well organized,” Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern said. “With the advent of cell phones and apps and social media, they have people who go out and scout for them on what law enforcement is doing around areas they are going to hit.”

Targets on Monday night included a Dodge dealership in San Leandro and a cannabis grow operation in Oakland where security guards were barricaded inside.

“We’ve had to put together rapid response teams,” Ahern said. “We can’t be locked down blocking intersections and doing crowd control.”

Ahern said Monday night appeared to be calmer than the weekend, as the looters moved north into Contra Costa and Solano counties. Monday’s demonstration in Oakland, which drew thousands of people into the downtown was also largely vandalism free.

So, there’s some good news.

“Quite frankly, we don’t have the law enforcement to do it all,” Ahern said.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Phil Matier appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Matier can be seen on the KGO-TV morning and evening news and can also be heard on KCBS radio Monday through Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. Got a tip? Call 415-777-8815, or email Twitter: @philmatie

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