Police arrest more than 200 people after protesters block Interstate 80

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Benjamin Shenouda/Staff

Update 12/9/14: This article has been updated to include further information from multiple sources.

More than 200 protesters, including many UC Berkeley students, were arrested Monday night following a march on Interstate 80 that halted traffic during the third night of ongoing protests in Berkeley over recent deaths by police force of unarmed black men.

216 protesters, many of whom were arrested on suspicion of various offenses — including resisting arrest, preventing the travel of others, and assault on a peace officer — were transported from Emeryville, where many were held overnight at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, according to California Highway Patrol spokesperson Officer Daniel Hill.  Another 9 protesters were taken to Berkeley City Jail.

Once police lines forced protesters off Interstates 80 and 580, a group of around 200 demonstrators congregated near the Ross Dress for Less store in Emeryville. There, police encircled the group and began arresting them at Interstate 80 near Powell Street.

According to ASUC student advocate Rishi Ahuja, the majority of protesters reached Santa Rita Jail by 4 a.m. and that the first of the protesters began being released around 9 a.m. Tuesday morning.

Ahuja said that some of the protesters were arrested on suspicion of a public nuisance or obstructing a public place, while others were arrested on suspicion of both.

“It was hard to tell on what basis those decisions were being made,” said Ahuja, whose office coordinated transporting resources to inmates and shuttling UC Berkeley student protesters back to Berkeley. “I wasn’t seeing a consistent pattern of why some folks got one and not the other.”

Additionally, Ahuja said he was not sure why some protesters took longer than others to be released. He said that those who were not state residents had to get fingerprinted, which took more time.

The number of UC Berkeley students arrested last night has not been confirmed, but Caitlin Quinn, ASUC external affairs vice president, said there were about 100 UC Berkeley students present when police began making arrests near the Ross Dress for Less store in Emeryville. Quinn said that she was arrested along with the group but was released Tuesday morning.

The protesters — at some point reaching 1,000 to 1,500 people — marched down University Avenue toward Interstate 80. According to according to a California Highway Patrol alert, a small group of them entered the freeway about 8 p.m., but officers cleared the freeway within approximately 10 minutes. About half an hour later, a larger group spilled into traffic lanes after destroying the fencing along the south side of the freeway, the alert said.

Demonstrators stopped both directions of traffic. Members of the crowd threw rocks and other objects at CHP personnel as officers attempted to clear the freeway, the alert said.

Officers stopped protesters at Powell Street and at about 10 p.m. the freeway reopened.

Zerihun Feki, a UC Berkeley sophomore involved in Monday’s protests, said he doesn’t believe the arrests were just. Feki said after his friend was surrounded by police last night, she called him and said she was terrified.

“For every protester … detained, there’s probably three or four cops, which is completely unnecessary,” Feki said.

BPD spokesperson Officer Jennifer Coats said their department also made 9 arrests, including one juvenile, during last night’s demonstrations. Coats said the demonstrators were “relatively peaceful” throughout the event and that she was not aware of any damaged or looted property in Berkeley.

Protests over the deaths of Michael Brown — shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri — and Eric Garner, who died after being put into an apparent chokehold by a New York officer, have swept Berkeley since Saturday night. During previous nights’ protests, police officers deployed multiple rounds of  tear gas and some protesters allegedly vandalized local businesses, including Berkeley Bowl, RadioShack and CREAM.

Assistant news editor Michelle Pitcher contributed to this report.

Contact G. Haley Massara, Bo Kovitz and Melissa Wen at [email protected].