Better to Reign in Hell
In the wake of the Raiders’ 2003 Super Bowl loss, a section of East 14th Street from 35th to 94th Avenues turned into what one police observer called “a war zone.” “Oakland Police No Match for Street Mayhem,” “Roving Mobs Surprised Police,” “Disappointed Fans Vent Anger in Streets,” screamed the headlines…. The hours-long battle between 400 police officers and as many as two thousand mostly young Raiders fans was an indisputably starling event and yet another piece of bad news for Oakland.
A reporter who covered the riots describes East 14th as “the spine of the Raider Nation.” He notes of East Oakland that “it’s ethnically diverse, low-income, with a lot of crime and drugs. It’s the home of many immigrants. This particular area is the home of the Hells Angels and was also Black Panther turf. East 14th is the oldest drag in Oakland. A lot of factories were on that street. The GM plant and other industries. It’s the blue-collar heart of the city.”
What happened the night of the Super Bowl was not on the scale of the Los Angeles riots, but a smaller series of flash riots that spread along International Boulevard for more than fifty blocks. The week before, rowdy celebrations of the Raiders’ AFC championship victory occurred as well. Jubilation had also veered into vandalism around Jack London Square downtown, leading to 25 arrests. The Super Bowl week, however, a crowd of 200 or so gathered at 37th Avenue and International after the game and started marching up the street yelling, “Raiders rule! Fuck the Police!” Police in riot gear reacted with “zero tolerance” approach, making use of rubber bullets, tear gas, and flashstun grenades as their fellow officers in in cars, on motorcycles, and in helicopters teamed up with the CHP, sheriffs and SWAT team to suppress the crowd of young Raiders fans.
At one point during the night, the small army of police was clearly outnumbered by riotous fans and had to retreat from a barrage of rocks and bottles. Other fans, however, did not fight with police, preferring to take part in sideshows or just stand on the sidelines and watch the chaos. There was much drunkenness. No business with “raiders stuff” in the windows were damaged, but cars with 49ers stickers got trashed. Members of the multi-ethnic crowd (about half Latino and a quarter black, with the remainder white and Asian” identified themselves as Raiders fans throughout the night, not just by wearing gear but by directing he battle like a game.
Raiders fans changed after they came back from LA. The original Raiders fans were workers with a hometown affiliation. Many even worked for the Raiders organization in some capacity. The new Raiders fans have gotten to the point where they want to be recognized. They have a sense of community, but it comes out of a sense of outward enmity and inward amity. It’s gotten to an absurd level in some respects. Many Raiders fans have this notion of constantly being under attack. Raiders fans can be great, but people can take it too far. So Raiders fans will throw things at other fans in the stadium. I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of good fans—there are—but the others are definitely there. I would think that the Raiders organization doesn’t want bum fans, but that’s what’s happening. The drunker you get, the stupider you get. I’m really turned-off by people’s lack of respect and self-respect. A lot of what people see as scary Raiders fans are people under the influence. My attitude is “Don’t lose respect for yourself, your team, and your community.
As far as the Raiders organization itself, they’ve lost their affiliation with the community. They’re no longer the Oakland Raiders. Al Davis holds a grudge toward Oakland. He’s aloof and doesn’t try to market the team and he seems to blame the fans. Davis has a totally pompous attitude toward everything, toward his own greatness. I think Jon Gruden left because he stole too much of Al’s thunder. Davis has caused a lot of problems with his own marketing. He could have gotten the fans back, but he didn’t. The Raiders are truly like pirates who ride their pirate ship from town to town taking plunder as they go. So, Al Davis has really ruined it for me because of leaving Oakland. But, you know, you’re always in love with your first love—but they’ve broken your heart.