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Zimmerman verdict: Oakland comes together to end violent protests

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OAKLAND – Workers at downtown businesses and nonprofit organizations here were busy sweeping up glass Tuesday after a third night of violent protests over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin.

Among those affected by the random acts of vandalism was the nonprofit Youth Radio, which aims to teach young people in Oakland’s minority and low-income communities the journalistic tools they need to further their educations and get jobs.

As hundreds have protested peacefully in Oakland, a small group grabbed the headlines by smashing windows and cars, committing assaults and robberies and lighting fires. Now merchants are vowing to stand against them.

Anyka Barber founded Betti Ono, a local gallery and community space, a year ago. She was there Saturday night when a resident stepped into a crowd of violent protesters and shouted that their approach was destroying local businesses.

After that, Barber decided to open her doors and invite locals in to express themselves peacefully -- in a safe space. 

On Tuesday, the windows of Betti Ono were covered in messages they penned in response to Martin's death.

“Brotha Trayvon, You deserved better,” read one. "I don't know what my next move is, but it will be more focused and visionary than smashing windows of local businesses and burning flags. We need to build, to heal, to make moves toward long-term survival."

Barber, 34, echoed that, saying property damage trickles down and leads to loss of jobs, loss of livelihood. The reviving downtown -- a mix of community groups, galleries, bars and restaurants -- is helping to channel economic life into a city that needs it.

"I just feel like we have to show up and say we value this as residents," said Barber, who planned to keep providing a safe forum for expression. "When you leave," she said of the vandals, many of whom come from outside Oakland, "we're going to be here to pick up the pieces. And we're not going to stand for this."

Youth Radio's executive director, Richard Raya, said the teens who begin a summer session Tuesday afternoon will focus their journalism on the feelings stirred by the acquittal -- not on the vandalism.

But the response to the destruction, he noted, has been a healing one.

"Last night I was shoveling glass with an art gallery director and two bartenders," said Raya, who had dozens of friends who participated in the peaceful portion of the protests.  "And we became closer for it."

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Twitter: @leeromney

lee.romney@latimes.com

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