Arrested protesters face no charges after dozens gather at Oakland courthouse

Rachael Garner/File
Traffic was halted on interstates 80 and 580 at University Avenue for more than two hours during the third night of protests on Dec. 8.

OAKLAND  — No charges were filed Tuesday morning against more than 180 people — many of whom were UC Berkeley students — arrested during protests in December and scheduled to appear in court.

Protesters had been arrested on the night of Dec. 8, after hundreds of people, having started their march in Berkeley, stopped traffic on Interstate 80 in a demonstration against recent grand jury decisions to not indict white police officers involved in the killings of unarmed black men. Although dozens gathered at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland for arraignments, the protesters’ legal representation later confirmed that charges had not been filed.

Protesters can still be charged, however, any time during the year after their arrests.

According to attorneys for the National Lawyers Guild — representing the protesters Tuesday — police reports were not yet ready for the people who had been called to court that morning.

“If the DA knows they don’t have police reports yet, they should not have hundreds of people come out to the courthouse,” said Kelly Densmore, a National Lawyers Guild attorney representing protesters.

California Highway Patrol said in a statement that while officials do not expect to take a year to present their reports to the district attorney’s office, they cannot release a specific date for when they will do so.

“Although we are working diligently to expedite these reports being submitted to the District Attorney, we will not sacrifice a complete and thorough investigation for the sake of time,” said CHP spokesperson Officer Sean Wilkenfeld in the statement.

Zak Douglas, a UC Berkeley junior, went to the courthouse Tuesday and said he faced charges of being a public nuisance and obstructing a public place. He and others who had been on Interstate 80 were circled by police near a Ross Dress for Less store in Emeryville. Douglas said police detained him and other demonstrators for about two and a half hours before beginning to zip-tie their wrists.

Douglas said he had joined the protesters as they marched near his house and stayed because he agreed with the cause and felt that he should do something.

“What made me stay — I saw a board that had a quote from MLK about fighting injustice,” Douglas said. “It was like, ‘I need to be a part of this.’ ”

About 20 arrestees at the courthouse were represented by attorneys from BAMN, a national activist group in favor of affirmative action, according to BAMN attorney and organizer Monica Smith.

Shavontae Williams, a freshman at Mills College who was detained in Emeryville on Dec. 8 and arrested, was one of multiple students represented by BAMN. Williams said she was “not too worried” about the potential charges she faced.

“I went out … to show that the city has a voice,” Williams said. “My logic right now is, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong.’ ”

Smith also questioned the justification for the arrests, saying that police were “trying to silence the protesters.”

According to a press release issued by CHP after the Dec. 8 protest arrests, some of the protesters who stopped Interstate 80 threw rocks and other objects at officers attempting to break up the crowd.

“The California Highway Patrol is sworn to protect the peoples’ right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate, however, the freeway is not the place to express one’s opinions,” the release read.

Attorneys have advised arrestees to check in periodically with the district attorney’s office to ask whether charges have been filed against them. If charged, arrestees will be summoned to court by mail.

Melissa Wen is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.