Hundreds of Berkeley protesters peacefully walk to Millions March rally in Oakland

Cesar Ruiz/Staff

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UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union led a peaceful protest from campus to downtown Oakland on Saturday afternoon.

In solidarity with national demonstrations, Berkeley protesters marched to Oakland to join a Millions March rally in front of the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse.  Saturday’s protest marks a week since demonstrations began in Berkeley in response to recent grand jury decisions related to the deaths of unarmed black men from police force.

About 300 students gathered at Sproul Plaza at about noon, where organizers from the BSU led them up Bancroft Way and down College Avenue into Oakland. They reached the Millions March rally at about 3:30 pm.

“Our mission is to disrupt business as usual, to elevate the point that black lives matter,” said BSU Chair Myles Santifer. “We’re here walking through an affluent, mostly white area and they probably don’t really care about these issues in their daily lives. We’re marching to the Millions March to show them that this is our reality.”

The march was calmer than those that preceded it, with none of the vandalism to businesses that took place on other days.  Designated students, distinguishable by colored armbands, acted as traffic control ahead of the crowds. Unlike demonstrations earlier in the week, during which protesters were arrested and police used teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, there was no police confrontation Saturday afternoon.

A small conflict broke out at about 1:15 pm when a car drove into the crowd as protesters walked through Elmwood on College Avenue. Overwhelming cries of “peaceful protest” from the marchers helped dissipate the situation as a few individuals started to hit the car.

Berkeley resident Sally Nelson, 72, said the scale of this protest felt bigger than the others she has seen in her nearly four decades in the area.

“This is peaceful today because these people really want to be effective,” she said. “This is just a small contingent heading down to Oakland. This is part of something bigger, it’s happening all over the country today.”

Pastor Michael McBride from the The Way Christian Center led the protesters in chanting “the people united, will never be divided” through downtown Oakland. He said members of the BSU called him for guidance after effigies resembling lynching victims were found at campus’ Sather Gate on Saturday morning.

“I’m here to provide guidance and comfort,” said McBride, who has been in Ferguson, Missouri, providing community support after the police officer who shot unarmed, black teen Michael Brown wasn’t indicted. “Today, this is about the youth. This generation of black youth is ready to take their rightful place in our society.”

In front of the Oakland courthouse, more than a thousand people listened to testimonies from community members who said they had been personally affected by police brutality. One woman cried as she recounted her 15-year-old son’s death at the hands of a police officer.

Millions March speakers condemned the effigies found at Sather Gate as the crowd booed. “Healing stations” were set up in Oscar Grant Plaza to offer emotional support and comfort for overwhelmed protesters. The crowd dissipated at about 4:30 pm.

Millions March events took place across the country Saturday, including in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Contact Arielle Swedback at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @aswedback.