I figured I wasn't going to get any sleep with the helicopters constantly flying overhead, and anyways, I'd never seen a riot in person. I got dressed and rode my bike over to 14th and Broadway. I heard one gunshot as I went down 14th, can't remember what the cross street was called. Once I got to Broadway, I stopped for a few minutes, and watched police cars were slowly driving north up Broadway, three across, towards a mob of people filling the streets across Broadway and Telegraph. Two other bicyclists were next to me, also perplexed about where to go. After the last group of cop cars cleared the intersection, I headed right to follow, partly because there were cars behind me that wanted to get across the intersection, and partly for lack of other ideas about what to do.
One of the first things I saw, probably around 16th St. if 16th were to cross over that weird triangular block with the Cathedral building on it, was a guy getting the shit beat out of him by a couple different guys while about six to eight people recorded the fight on their cellphones. One person was shouting "One on one!" in that way meant to egg people on, while someone else was shouting "It's not worth it!" in that way to encourage people to act sensibly. The guy getting beat on spent most of the fight on the ground, not engaging back except in a way that looked defensive and amateurish. When the fight broke up, he was shouting about how he was there to support the cause, "And this is what I get?!" Found out later from talking to the guy that his laptop was stolen in the proceedings. (Why you'd bring your laptop to a riot, I am still not clear on.)
Generally speaking, the crowd was young. Quite a few folks had professional-looking cameras, the kind you have to support on one shoulder as you tape. They swarmed over everything--any graffiti already scribbled on the buildings and street, any graffiti being thrown up, a papery-looking American flag burning in the street. There were some people, mostly idiotic-seeming college bros and they hos, and always white, who were standing around and laughing, shouting things like "Fuck Sears!" and "Burn it down!" in mocking tones, at a volume which meant they didn't actually want any rioters to hear, it was bravado for their friends' consumption.
I saw a couple people set fire to piles of garbage, mostly from the regular-sized bins you'd have at home, though one larger, more industrial-sized bin, was upended. Many windows were smashed--last I heard, Awaken Cafe, Oaklandish were hit, and I saw Sears and a few others businesses smashed-up firsthand. The sound of a shattered, eight-foot window made of safety glass cascading to the ground is actually quite musical. The sound of bros poking at what remains of said window in the frame, laughing and joking, is not.
I followed the flow of the riot, meeting up with my friend just after seeing the fight. The cops were herding the crowd with the lines of cars, moving faster and faster as the crowd spread out and thinned, until they were chasing around at 30-40 mph. I heard it was a new tactic to disperse crowds, and it was pretty effective, because about an hour after I got there, most everyone was gone. There were regular patrol vehicles, as well as some fancy black SUVs driving around, but no arrest vans. The patrol vehicles had four cops apiece, all in riot gear, many looking intimidated and afraid, honest to God. Many were clearly out of their element at a demonstration like this. One officer stopped his car in front of a burning pile of garbage, approaching it with his stick out. My friend hollered that a fire extinguisher would work better than stick to take care of the fire, and the cop actually looked a little sheepish in response.
Once everything broke up, my friend and I walked a friend of his back to her car. Things were pretty quiet at that point, and my ride home was completely uneventful, unless you count the bug that flew into my mouth.
My take on last night's events was that many were out there to smash, running around with gleeful or amused bearings. There were a lot of spectators (including myself), but I'd put them into two different categories--those who came out to point and laugh, and those who came to witness. The division was pretty clear, if one spent a few minutes observing the crowd.
One of the oddest things was that much of the downtown night life continued on as if there wasn't a riot happening. I saw lots of people dressed for the clubs down there--clusters of women in stilettos and miniature clothing, more women walking on the arms of their dates, a pair of guys in what could only be described as the Mexican-cowboy interpretation of the zoot suit. They were smoking, walking in to the club, out of the club, back to their cars, etc. It was a little surreal, seeing two worlds sharing the same space and yet not touching each other.