Protesters gathered in downtown Oakland on Thursday night to condemn the recent actions of police officers across the country, which have resulted in several arrests along with a halted freeway and various acts of vandalism.
Multiple leaders of the African American religious communities spoke to a crowd of roughly 2,000 people that gathered at Frank Ogawa Plaza, nicknamed “Oscar Grant Plaza,” to address the issue of police violence and denounce the recent police shootings of black men such as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
UC Berkeley students were also in attendance, including outgoing ASUC Senator Boomer Vicente. Vicente later left to attend a City Council meeting where a police reform item — for which he wrote policy recommendations — was being discussed.
“For me, it is important to be an ally to the Black community and to be in solidarity with them out there during these actions and these demonstrations,” Vicente said. “There’s a lot of issues with the Oakland Police Department recently and what I hope is that the protest makes a call or a statement that people will come together to hold police accountable.”
Oakland leaders in the Black religious communities, including activists Ben McBride and BK Woodson Sr., a pastor of the Bay Area Christian Connection, were among the list of speakers at the beginning of the evening. Family members of previous victims of police violence also spoke at the rally, including Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, the uncle of Oscar Grant — an African American man fatally shot at the Fruitvale BART station in 2009 by BART police.
“It is time for us to realize that America has always been wrong,” Woodson said at the rally. “America has a choice to make: We will either become fascists or we will take this nation and this city in our hand and we will change it with the power that comes with love and nonviolence of our unity.”
Members of the LGBTQ+, Chicano, Asian and feminist groups who identified with the minority status of African Americans were also present at the rally.
“We understand the oppression because we have similar experiences,” said Chicana ally Siboney Renteria. “We want to stand up for Black brothers and sisters.”
According to NBC Bay Area, five protesters were arrested by OPD for burglary, vandalism and assault on a police officer.
After the speeches, the crowd marched down Broadway toward the Oakland Police Department building on 7th Street and Broadway next to the I-880 freeway. There, leaders spoke again and initiated chants such as, “No justice, no peace. No racist police.”
According to California Highway Patrol spokesperson Henry Schultz, a thousand protesters began moving toward the freeway about 8:30 p.m. Within 20 minutes, the flow of traffic completely stopped and many in the crowd sat down on both sides of the divider.
Protesters spray painted the highway dividers along with the police department building with phrases such as “Stop Police Violence” and “Murderers.” They later began allowing some civilian cars to pass through the off-ramp after a group vote between those who were holding the lines across the freeway, but they kept back Highway Patrol officers, who stood several meters back from the main line of protestors.
“I’m tired of Black people getting slaughtered,” said protester Antoinette Young. “We really need to stop begging for our respect.”
The Oakland Police Department building was also vandalized and the glass front doors were shattered with red paint thrown on it. Officers were lined up at the front entrance with shielded helmets, batons and zip ties for handcuffs.
At roughly midnight, the CHP issued a dispersal order to the crowd. The I-880 freeway was opened shortly after 1 a.m. but two protesters were arrested for disobeying the order.
“Our standpoint is we more than welcome the freedom of speech; we are for that as long as it is done in a safe manner and not on the freeway,” Schultz said. “It is most important to keep protesters, motorists and officers safe.”