Street scenes: on the front lines during Oakland’s second night of protest

on November 26, 2014

A second round of violent protests shook Oakland Tuesday night in response to a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown.

The evening started relatively peacefully. Around 6pm a crowd of protestors formed, chanting “Shut it down for Michael Brown!” as phalanxes of Oakland police and California Highway Patrol—in full riot gear—lined entrances to freeway ramps to confine protestors to the downtown streets.

Four percussionists banged out a tempo as a mass of some three hundred to four hundred marchers began to organize, surging along Telegraph Ave, San Pablo Ave, and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Young men, faces concealed behind handkerchiefs, occasionally sprayed graffiti, but otherwise walked calmly. But as the marchers proceeded, tension mounted.

Just after 9pm, disorder erupted when protestors found a hole in a fence off the shoulder of Freeway 580, stormed up a small hill through brush and onto the eastbound roadway. Hundreds piled across the four lanes, stopping traffic as they continued their chants. Some protesters sprawled on the pavement.

In seconds, dozens of patrol cars and motorcycles descended down the freeway while a two-row deep line of officers flanked from the north. Closed in, most of the protestors were forced down the hill and back to the fence.

About 50 protestors resisted. Police arrested more than three-dozen of them, while others escaped through the brush. A woman sobbed in the dirt, looking up at the police flashlights while her brother was arrested behind them. Two high school students said their friends were also apprehended.

At about 9:30, the remaining protestors scattered across Telegraph Ave and set fire to a barricade of debris they had piled around 35th Street. The flaming heap of garbage barrels, scrap wood, and other makeshift flammables sent curls of smoke into the air. Police and protesters positioned themselves on either side of the barricade.

At 40th street two dumpsters were set ablaze, and police SUVs swept in, enclosed the intersection and announced an unlawful assembly, ordering protestors to disperse or face arrest. The remaining 100 or so protestors sprinted north up Telegraph Avenue.

For the next thirty minutes the protesters rampaged as they moved north to 55th street, using rocks, bricks, skateboards and chairs to smash craters in plate glass storefronts and bus shelters along Telegraph Ave. The front doors of Kelly-Moore Paint were smashed in, and looted cans of paint became projectiles. An elderly man stumbled into the middle of street, disoriented, calling out for help. He said he had been hit in the head with a can of paint.

The protestors attacked business storefronts like Tip Top Bike Shop and McDonald’s, shattering glass across the pavement. Onlookers, neighbors, and storeowners began sweeping almost immediately after the vandals ran through.

By 10:30pm, police had cleared Telegraph Ave., while small contingents of protestors turned down side streets.

With fires licking the dark sky and police marching through the smoke behind him, Reverend Dan McBride turned and walked down 53rd Street where some young protestors had just peeled off.

“Some people are out here for a righteous purpose,” he said of the night’s tipping point, “while others are just here to lean on a culture of defiance.”

“We didn’t have enough leaders out here to de-escalate when emotions ran high.”

Oakland Police said they made 92 arrests.

(Go to OaklandNorth.net for further coverage)

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