Fourteenth Street was quiet. Almost too quiet.

It was about 7 p.m., Thursday, July 1 — one day before the earliest the much-anticipated verdict in the Johannes Mehserle trial would come in. Warm air, blue sky and sunshine bespoke to anything but tension and ominousness. There was almost no breeze.

At 14th and Oak, there was light traffic in the streets. On the sidewalk, there was little activity — a few pedestrians, a happy-hour patron at the Ruby Room smoking a cigarette outside the bar. The scene offered no hint of impending … well, impending anything, really.

One block up, just past the intersection of Madison Street, came the first indication anything was even slightly amiss. The new multi-story, low-income housing building, which also houses a Subway sandwich shop on its ground floor, had installed plywood in front of its expensive-looking plate glass windows. The next block added context to the cover-up: a Xeroxed copy of Grant’s smiling face peered out from the window of Greg’s Barber Salon.

The pattern — plywood or posters — repeated itself occasionally all the way up to Broadway. Many businesses had opted for plywood; yet this was no hard and fast rule — a restaurant with a neon Tsingtao beer sign embellished with a picture of a dragon and a cursive script that read “Chinatown” had a picture of Grant in its window. The Brown Coach Cafe went with plywood. The Joyce Gordon Gallery chose a more elaborate version of the same Grant picture — a print of a woodcut, the words “demand justice” added, along with images of helicopters, burning cars, police in gas masks and a man speaking into a cell phone.

It was an interesting dichotomy: some store and building owners had chosen to fortify their structures against the threat of property damage, while others made an appeal for solidarity for the cause, in the apparent hopes that that would be enough to stay the hand of any rioters and/or looters. A chalkboard in front of the Gordon gallery carried additional messages: “We are Oscar Grant! Violence is not justice.” A nearby panhandler paid the sign no heed; he asked passers-by for extra cigarettes, spare change or both.

There was a moment of perfect synchronicity at the corner of 14th and Broadway, as a BART police car drove by the exact same intersection where, nearly 17 months earlier, police and protestors had engaged in a tense stand-off, just before the ensuing chaos which garnered national — and even international— media attention. The incident became known as the Oakland riots, although the actual rioting was pretty light, compared to the standards previously set by Los Angeles, Watts and Detroit, or even Oakland itself following the Raiders’ last Super Bowl victory.

The police car crossed the intersection, pulled onto Frank Ogawa plaza and two officers got out — just to stretch, as it turned out. A reporter asked the cops if they would consent to having their picture taken. They declined, stating, “We’re not allowed to participate in stuff like that.” If they were feeling any nervousness or anxiety about the possibility of one of their former co-workers being convicted or acquitted, it didn’t show.

City Hall plaza was for the most part deserted, save for a few homeless people. The Unicursal hexagram — a symbol of Masonic architecture — embedded into the plaza’s rotunda seemed more noticeable, perhaps due to the lack of actual activity around it. There was definitely some eerie, albeit faint, magic at work, yet good or evil, none could say for sure.

Suddenly a winding siren wailed, piercing the calm. But that, too, turned out to be no real cause for alarm: a fire truck and paramedic unit had been called for a homeless guy. The paramedics looked under his tongue as a police unit and downtown security escorts watched with bored expressions. After a minute or two, the EMT’s loaded the guy into the back of their van and drove off down 13th Street. Meanwhile, the BART police car drove off in a perpendicular direction to the paramedic, down Broadway.

More of the solidarity/fortification dichotomy was evident at Broadway, just opposite the BART station: the T-Mobile store was heavily boarded up, while DeLauer’s Newsstand displayed the Grant poster, along with another sign which read, “Love not blood on the streets of Oakland.” Across the street, there was an ironic yet appropriate juxtaposition: a poster of Grant underneath a BART sign.

An immigrant taxi driver idling at the cabstand on 13th Street walked up, curious as to why a photographer was taking pictures. Asked his opinions on the Grant shooting and the Mehserle trial, he said in halting English, “it’s kind of sad.”

Will the verdict affect his business, he was asked. After a moment of thought, he answered.

“It may affect the business if there is no peace, there is no place to work,” he said. “We all need peace.”

of the verdict will continue on Oakland Local. See OL’s previous

coverage of the Oscar Grant case here. Follow trial on
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