Heated confrontations between Oakland police and over 500 Occupy Oakland demonstrators during a march against police brutality on Saturday night threatened to turn into a repeat of Tuesday night’s violence, but the tension dissipated as the march moved away from OPD headquarters and into West Oakland. The night ended peacefully and without arrests.
The march left Frank Ogawa plaza at around 8:30 pm and headed down Broadway. Many demonstrators held five-foot-tall wooden black “shields” showing the words “Stop Police Brutality” and images of skeletons. Some wore black hooded sweatshirts and black bandanas over their faces, while others were dressed in their Halloween best, some in outfits embellished with sparkling lights, and others with their faces painted ghoulish white with large black rings around their eyes. Several demonstrators shielded their faces with Guy Fawkes masks.
The crowd, more than 500 people, appeared to be headed towards OPD headquarters at 7th and Broadway when marchers met Oakland police for the first time. A line of two dozen officers wearing helmets and holding batons was stationed across Broadway, blocking the street. The crowd stopped at 8th and Broadway and chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!”
The march then turned west on 8thstreet and headed a block over to Washington Street, where another line of about twenty officers was waiting. Demonstrators holding peace signs quickly formed a line between police and the crowd of marchers, some of whom shouted angrily and tried to get in the police officers’ faces. There was a clear split in the group between those trying to maintain non-violence and others who berated the “peacekeepers” for “protecting the cops.”
Some people in the crowd told police, “Stand aside, we are peaceful”—while someone in the crowd responded, “Speak for yourself.” After a tense ten minutes, the march continued without incident down 8th street to Clay St, where the marchers turned south to 7thstreet.
As a helicopter circled above, shining a spotlight on the crowd below, several in the crowd yelled, “Peacekeepers to the front.” Once again, a line of demonstrators holding peace signs formed a barrier between the crowd and the police. The crowd alternated between chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, the martial law has got to go,” and “We are Scott Olsen,” referring to the Iraq War veteran who was injured during demonstrations Tuesday night.
With the path to OPD headquarters blocked, the crowd turned around and headed back the way it came, moving north on Broadway. Traffic was stopped as hundred of demonstrators blocked intersections up to West Grand Avenue. Reactions of stalled drivers were mixed. Some honked their approval, and one man got out of his car, dancing and cheering as the march passed by. One driver rolled down her window and yelled at the protestors, “I’ve got to get home!” After a heated exchange with a protester who refused to move, the woman eventually swerved around him and drove off.
A protester named Shannon, 27, who declined to give her last name, said she was not happy with the way police handled the protests on Tuesday night. She carried a sign that said “You fucked up,” as she and fellow marchers headed north on Broadway. “We’re marching to protest the police brutality that happened on Tuesday,” she said as the sounds of drums, tambourines, and a banjo drifted over the chants. “We’re here to express that we’re not OK with how things went.”
Shannon’s friend Miko, 28, said she’d had enough. “Police can do whatever the fuck they want, and enough is enough,” she said. “The cops need to be tried like regular people. Human rights over police rights.”
Ahead of Miko and Shannon, the group chanted in unison, “We are all Oscar Grant!” and brandished signs that read, “Big Brother: We’re watching you,” or “We are awake,” and waved large flags with a picture of Che Guevara.
At 9:40 pm, protestors stopped at West Grand and Northgate Avenue to figure out where to go next. “West Oakland!” a man cried over the megaphone. Someone from behind said, “Berkeley!” By 9:50 pm, a decision had been made, and protestors began marching towards West Oakland.
A few minutes later, the crowd turned down West Street into a residential neighborhood in West Oakland. Onlookers stood on their porches and in their doorways as the crowd moved passed. Most residents seemed to be in support of the march–one man held a fist in the air in solidarity and many others cheered. Some demonstrators stopped to take a photo of a spray painted message on a garage door that read, “Break the law.”
“Oh, that’s not good — I’m not here for that,” said Daniel Ruxin, 53, pointing to the words on the garage door. He said he had been waiting in downtown Oakland to catch the next BART train when he saw the crowd and felt compelled to join the march. “I’m here to make a point,” he said. Ruxin’s gray hair was tied up into a ponytail. Describing himself as a former respiratory therapist forced to stop working because of illness, Ruxin said he is among what Occupy protestors have been referring to as “the 99 percent.” “I want everyone who is hungry to get food to eat, and everyone who wants a place to sleep, gets one,” he said. “Then I’ll stop protesting.”
Geronimo Simmons, a 31-year-old construction worker from West Oakland, was driving home when he came across the protesters marching. “I think the protests are needed, because obviously the politicians aren’t doing anything,” he said, from behind the driver’s seat. Although he did join the march, he said he thought their message was important. “People got to speak their minds,” Simmons aid. “Obviously the paper ballots are not working, so we need to figure out other methods to get the economy together.”
No police presence had been visible, since the march left the downtown area surrounding OPD headquarters, until 10:13pm, when about 35 officers from the California State Highway Patrol were seen stationed at the corner of Brush Street and 18th Street. Suddenly, all of the officers quickly got into their cars and sped down Brush St. toward 14th Street. There they met up with fast-charging marchers.
In a chaotic scene, several sirens blared as demonstrators yelled at approaching CHP and OPD officers who initially tried to block the intersection. Lt. Freddie Hamilton, the commanding officer on the scene, quickly got out of his squad car and yelled, “Back up!” at the officers. They complied. The demonstrators cheered wildly.
A few blocks over, on Martin Luther King Jr. Way and 14th Street, several police officers rushed to their cars, turned on flashing sirens, and drove away from the crowd. Again, the crowd cheered as it marched behind the retreating cars.
Close to 10:35 pm, the march wound its way back towards the plaza. One demonstrator wearing a black hood and black bandana appeared to throw an object through a window, breaking the glass, at the OPD Recruiting office at 16thStreet and San Pablo Avenue, directly north of Frank Ogawa Plaza. As the man quickly ran away, photographers and demonstrators rushed to the broken window and arguments broke out among the crowd. Many in the crowd angrily asked, “Who did that?” and demanded that the march remain non-violent. Others appeared to applaud the action, shouting insults toward the police.
By 10:45 pm, the march concluded at the plaza. About a hundred stayed in the amphitheater to wrap up the night. “This shows that we can successfully end a march by ourselves,” a young woman with short black hair announced over the megaphone. “Congrats on a successful march against police brutality,”
As the crowd cheered, the young woman continued that protesters must demand that Mayor Jean Quan be held responsible, that Interim OPD Chief Howard Jordan be fired, “and the officers who sent Scott Olsen to the hospital need to be sent to prison.”
After the march ended, four OPD officers could be seen inspecting the broken window outside of the Recruiting Center. One passerby yelled, “Hey guys, we’re sorry about that. We’re going to try and find who did it.”
“All right,” one of the officers responded. “You do that.”
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.