Photos and video by Eric Anderson

At 6pm last night a few hundred people were gathered at Oscar Grant Plaza in downtown Oakland. They were waiting to hear what the grand jury would decide to do with Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Some were chanting protest slogans, others waving signs or handing out flyers, but many were too restless to participate, wandering aimlessly around the crowd or checking their phones every few moments.

By 6:15pm another hundred people had joined, and everyone moved into the street, blocking traffic at the intersection of Broadway and 14th.

When the verdict finally reached the smartphones of Oakland, the protesters stopped chanting and lay downa2

in the streets; nearly 1000 people were completely silent in a moment of collective disbelief.  But as this passed on to cynicism and outrage, the crowd grew noisy again, even louder than before.

By 6:30pm the protest was back on its feet and heading down Broadway towards the on-ramps for Interstate 880.  An hour prior to this, a protester who’d been working the crowd with a megaphone concluded his diatribe thusly:  “If this cop walks, if this murdering pig walks, then this whole country has to come to a stop.”

At the time I thought this sounded unlikely, but by 6:45pm, as the marchers first collided with a hastily assembled cordon of riot cops at the entrance to the freeway, it was clear they were going to bring something, somewhere, to a halt.

This video was shot as the riot police began charging in to block the on-ramp, with the protesters chanting, “hands up; don’t shoot.”

The march eventually found its way to the 580 exit ramp on Lakeshore Ave., and got on the freeway, blocking West-bound traffic for an hour or more. Enough police had also made it onto 580 to prevent the marchers from heading for the Bay Bridge, but hundreds if not thousands of people were in the road by this point, and there was no chance of getting them to leave. Some began climbing up the wall onto 580 East, blocking traffic there as well.

Several people were using megaphones, trying to direct the people in various ways, mostly encouraging them to get onto the road or chant the slogans.  Drummers from Boomshake provided a steady marching beat, which kept the energy high and wild, but occasionally the protesters seemed to forget the circumstances and turn almost festive amid the music and adrenaline and chaos.

When vans filled with riot cops eventually made it through the blocked traffic on 580 East, the cops quickly pushed the protesters back towards the wall, firing tear gas towards the crowd.  Panicking, some people jumped down the 10ft. wall back onto 580 West, but others bolted through traffic and up the hill onto MacArthur Blvd.

Black-bloc punks were there throwing firecrackers at the police and burning trash–ignoring the complaints of many of the other protesters.  There were also youths at the march with their families, as well as more than a few real geezers, but the bulk of the crowd was multi-racial millennial.

When the cops finally managed to surround the traffic-jammers and get them off of 580 West, they still couldn’t push the crowd any further back.  They formed a single file line stretching the length of the Lakeshore exit, maybe 800 ft, and used their batons to shove anyone who approached.

The crowds slowly drifted back down to Eastshore Park, where the Grand Lake farmers market happens on Saturdays.  Some stood watching a bonfire that was raging on the Lakeshore exit ramp,  others lingered under the freeway, taunting and jeering at the police.

Eventually someone with  a megaphone convinced the crowd to head for Oscar Grant Plaza, and off they went, the beating drums keeping the massive group together.

As of 1am, a Smart & Final grocery store on Broadway had been looted and a Starbucks’ windows had been smashed and more street bonfires were burning, but the number of protesters dwindled as the storm of outrage passed.

It is hard to see these protests for what they are.  We have a tendency to favor either the good parts, such as  solidarity with the Ferguson protests and direct political action against ongoing racial injustice, or the bad parts, the looting and vandalism, but the protest was in fact both of these things at once.  So whichever side you favor, acknowledge that there is another side, and seek reconciliation, not antagonism.

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About The Author

Eric is a freelance writer who covers Oakland's thriving New Economy movement, as well as local culture, community projects, and letters. As graduate of UC Santa Cruz he is essentially a socialist, but what does that even mean anymore, really? As a proud Oakland transplant from the PNW, Eric sees his work at Oakland Local as a small part of Oakland's battle to keep its identity, support all its peoples, and be prospering without plundering.

6 Responses

  1. JR

    First of all kudos to the Oakland Police Department for facilitating the protester’s right to assemble and speak their voice. They secured a multi-block area around Frank Ogawa Plaza (not calling it that is disrespectful to his legacy) for the protesters to have a safe area to vent and express themselves. Even though this disrupts many businesses downtown and people trying to get around town, it is a good practice that you would think would be enough for the protesters to do their thing.

    But no, as the author glorifies, the protesters shut down a major freeway for an extended time and looted many stores and businesses. They also were marching though dense residential neighborhoods scaring many residents with their violent chants and intimidating masks, homemade shields and weapons. And waking up this morning I see graffiti all over my neighborhood and city.

    Although a majority of the protesters are peaceful, a large group (thousands on the freeway according to the author who was there) are mischievous anarchists content on disrupting the lives of people who have nothing to do with any of these incidents and might even agree with the base message.

    I don’t know how ignorant these people are about how things work around here, but business tax and property tax pay for not only police but the programs to help lead the disadvantaged youth of Oakland into a life free of crime and violence. Incidents like this take away our ability to attract business and ultimately take away money from these positive programs. But witnessing the actions of the protesters and the glorification of their acts by the media around here, I guess they want Oakland to stay the same.

    Reply
    • Carl Anderson

      J R> business tax and property tax pay for not only police but the programs to help lead the disadvantaged youth of Oakland into a life free of crime and violence

      Reply: In the City of Oakland budget, of the money that the City can actually budget (as opposed to various restricted funds, eg pensions), the #1 share of the $$$ goes to police, and the #2 goes to fire. The programs that might actually help the disadvantaged youth of Oakland get only a small share.

      The looting hurts us all. Suppose I rewrite J R’s point this way: the looting even hurts the looters in the long term. I think that’s what J R basically meant, and it’s right. But stupid collective rage is part of American culture. It’s not restricted to anarchist looters. Consider the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Anarchist looters didn’t cause that invasion, American culture did: rage at the 2001 attack on NY, which wasn’t Iraq’s fault.

      Reply
  2. Disgusted

    Thanks, JR, and it’s clear that a lot of these smashy-smash fools don’t even LIVE HERE! For whatever reason, Oakland is a major hub on the protest tour circuit…heaven forbid they tear up their OWN neighborhoods, but they’re happy to blow in here like so many Stormtroopers, make life harder for the locals, and then swarm back to the suburbs to sleep soundly WITHOUT the sirens, choppers overhead, smell of smoke and teargas, cries from frightened babies, and other nonsense we had to put up with last night.

    And yelling “black lives matter,” too, buncha hypocrites. If people’s lives down here matter, to you, keep your hipster hineys home and protest where YOU LIVE! Oakland is not your private sandbox.

    This is why Occupy Oakland dried up and blew away, btw. The locals, including many of the local activists, were getting tired of the smash-and-bash scene-seekers coming in to tear up the place again and again for some kind of phony street cred. Some of the slumming “anarchist” fools were about to find themselves on the very pale end of some very real race wars in the streets, and when word got out to knock it off, stay home or else, they whined and grumbled but ultimately accepted that they were NOT welcome here. Hope this new crop of posers gets that message real fast, because I’d like to get some sleep this week.

    Reply
  3. albert

    It’s rather interesting that the more that comes out from the Grand Jury Transcripts, the three different coroners reports, the forensic evidence analyzed by both the local police and the FBI, the more it becomes clear the police officer did what a police officer should always do in similar circumstances. All witnesses agree Brown entered the officers window and was wrestling with him. DNA evidence and blood spatters prove Brown was attempting to take the officers gun. The coroner hired by the family concedes the bullet paths prove Brown’s arms were not raised. And the fact that even after the impact of multiple gunshots Brown fell forward proves he was moving toward the officer at a pace greater than a walk. Making me wonder if these hoodlums even care about what happened that night. Might you ask them next time you are out with them at night keeping me and my neighbors up at night?

    Reply
    • Carl Anderson

      Albert speaks only of the particular incident in Ferguson. If the Ferguson incident were unique, it would be tragic, but it wouldn’t cause demonstrations in reaction, whether nonviolent or otherwise. “Ferguson” is shorthand for a nationwide pattern.

      Police officers kill young black men while on duty, maybe 100 times a year in the US. There’s always an investigation of some sort. But the outcome of that investigation (including its appeals) almost always exonerates the officer. Often, exoneration is correct and proper: the police officer really had to kill the man. But the investigatory system (including its appeals) almost always exonerates the officer. It’s so predictable in its outcome that it loses credibility. Unless, of course, you believe that the only guilty officer in the whole country was Johannes Mehserle, who killed Oscar Grant–in Oakland.

      Reply
      • albert

        I speak of the incident in Ferguson because those are the signs being held and the chorus of chants on the street all refer to that incident. Even more so because that’s what this article is about. And am still waiting for someone to explain why if none of the facts we know support the signs and chants the “reporter” writing this article is perpetuating the myths being told.

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