article clipped from San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Violent protesters’ agenda — mayhem

By Chip Johnson

The reasons for the antipolice protests around the nation are justified, but the manner in which they’re playing out in the Bay Area is not.

Peaceful protests in the Bay Area are providing cover for people whose only agenda is to create mayhem.

These people care very little about Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the two black men who were killed at the hands of police. They have their own agenda.

They’ve been operating in the Bay Area for quite some time. It doesn’t matter to them what the demonstration is about. They’re just looking for cover so they can vandalize, destroy, attack and loot.

We first saw them here — the so-called black bloc — during the Iraq War protests of 2003. A splinter group dressed in black — covering their faces — would break off from the mostly peaceful demonstrators and begin destroying property — lighting fires, spray-painting graffiti, breaking windows. We saw the same violent actions from splinter groups during the Oscar Grant protests in Oakland — and then the Occupy Oakland protests in 2011. The tactics divided the Occupy Oaklanders, many of whom objected to the destruction of property.

Now, they’re hijacking the latest demonstrations in Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley.

The same groups who came to wreak havoc in Oakland last week have shifted their actions to Berkeley in the last few days. Apparently, the decision by Berkeley police to use tear gas to disperse the crowd has been taken as a challenge.

“The rhetoric about Berkeley is notched up now because protesters believe (police) overreacted,” said Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent, who dealt with demonstrations in Oakland that turned violent a week ago.

And with the venue shifted from Telegraph Avenue in Oakland a few miles north to UC Berkeley’s front door, people seeking cover for mayhem have a new wave of protesters with which to shield their true intentions.

Any notions that nonviolent protesters will be able to halt violent actions is a dicey proposition: One Berkeley protester tried to stop a looter outside a Radio Shack on Dwight Way and was struck with a hammer for his efforts Sunday night.

For police, trying to identify, isolate and pluck a felonious troublemaker from the crowd is like trying to grab the only green jelly bean in a vat full of red ones.

Oakland police have used video to match one looter arrested last week to an assault on a police officer in an August demonstration, Whent said. On Saturday night, Oakland police deployed to Berkeley recognized and arrested a suspect in the looting of a Smart & Final store in downtown Oakland last week.

Historically, the Bay Area has been one of the few places in America where peaceful protest has become a part of our DNA. It’s a part of who we are and one of the compelling reasons so many people moved here over the last 50 years.

I don’t believe the magic is gone, but our innocence has been lost. It’s sad to see citizens engaging in violence at a time when most places have been able to express their anger without resorting to violence to express their frustration.

Chip Johnson is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. E-mail chjohnson@sfchronicle.com