A second night of protest against the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, began peacefully Tuesday afternoon, but later turned aggressive. Several businesses on Telegraph Avenue were vandalized, and protesters set fires in the streets. Multiple arrests were made on the 580 freeway, which was briefly shut down for the second night in a row; as well as on Telegraph Avenue, and at San Pablo and 40th Street in Emeryville.
By 8 am Wednesday, the Telegraph Avenue Subway restaurant, Arbor Cafe, Kelly-Moore Paint, the building where Aunt Mary’s cafe was formerly located, and the McDonald’s had their windows broken or boarded up. Most of the broken glass had been swept off the sidewalk, although some of the white paint stolen the previous night from Kelly-Moore by protesters remained splashed on the street and outdoor walls. By morning, the Oakland Police Department announced that they had made 92 arrests.
Monday night’s demonstrations in Oakland, immediately following the announcement that a grand jury would not indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of 18 year old Michael Brown, had been sizeable and heated, leaving smashed windows downtown and resulting in what police said were 43 arrests. Tuesday’s events began more quietly, at around 5:30 PM, with a group of 200 protesters huddled around a megaphone on the corner of 14th Street and Broadway, airing grievances and chanting about justice.
A man with a megaphone and baseball cap yelled: “Black and brown people are not expendable!” and “None of this can be solved within the confines of the system!”
Soon the crowd had started moving, charting a circuitous route through downtown Oakland, Old Oakland, and Chinatown. People chanted, “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” “The whole system is guilty,” and the by-now familiar “Hands up, don’t shoot.” That last slogan became a nationally popular chant after Brown, who was unarmed, was reported to have made the hands-up gesture during his confrontation with Wilson on August 9.
The Oakland protest group was about 300 strong by the time it arrived in the early evening at the intersection between Castro Street and the 980 freeway. Some protesters succeeded in accessing the highway, stopping traffic in both directions for a few minutes until police could move them along.
Protesters continued winding their way back toward Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, now with a few drummers and some individuals with bandanas tied over their faces. At the plaza, a few small fires were lit, but they were promptly extinguished by police. The crowd moved back through Chinatown again, and police and protesters briefly confronted one another at 18th Street.
“You should be ashamed of yourself!” a protester yelled at one officer until the protester was pulled away.
Protesters then moved toward the freeway a second time. But California Highway Patrol officers were standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the intersection of Castro and the freeway, blocking off the entrances. At this time, Oakland police officers could be seen to carry plastic wrist ties, indicating potential arrests. A few officers also wore gas masks.
In comments made at 8:30 pm Tuesday, Oakland Police Department Public Information Officer Johnna Watson said the department estimated that about 350 people had so far been involved in most of the night’s protests. She said that as of that time, no arrests had been made, the police had used no force, and they had only been obliged to confiscate a few bottles from the crowd.
Although at times the situation became tense, some police officers maintained a light mood. “Nice walk,” one said. “It’s good exercise.”
But most protesters were more serious. “Tweets, writing letters, and going on talk shows doesn’t really work,” said Nikki, a protester who looked to be in her late teens and declined to give her last name.
“We have to disturb their peace in order to have peace,” said her friend Hoseana Asesha, from San Francisco. She said she wasn’t surprised by the grand jury’s decision, and that she was marching to bring change to a system that does not value black and white people equally.
Ben McBride, a community leader at The Way church in Berkeley who has lived in Oakland for six years said, “We’re here in solidarity with young people. I stand against a system that disenfranchises black men across the country. We have a right to lift our voices.”
When asked what he would say to some of the commuters stuck in traffic while the protest blocked the highway, he said, “I think it’s important to have patience” in times like these. He stressed that he supports the non-violent tactics many protesters have shown.
At some point in the evening, next to the onramp to the 580 freeway eastbound, protesters discovered a hole in the fence. A large group funneled through and up a hill, onto the freeway. Law enforcement arrived in large numbers shortly afterwards and began to to drive protesters back down the hill. Several arrests were made on the freeway shoulder, and traffic was stopped for about ten minutes.
Protesters eventually made their way to Telegraph Avenue. Near the 35th Street block, a group set fire to a barricade, mostly assembled from garbage barrels, scrap wood, and other makeshift flammables. This fire separated the core protesters from the police by about five blocks. Two Dumpsters were ablaze at 40th Street and Telegraph, where police declared the assembly unlawful. The protesters split into smaller groups as they continued up the street.
Around 9:45 pm, hundreds of protesters arrived at the intersection of 42nd Street and Telegraph in the Temescal. People from the crowd smashed several windows of the Kelly-Moore paint store and looted large tins of paint, according to nearby business owner Eric Marquez. Half the intersection was then painted white by protesters, with streaks on the streets and splashes on the store-fronts reaching as far as McDonald’s several blocks away. The golden arches of the McDonald’s sign were cracked, and the windows smashed. Workers from Tip-Top Bikes, further up the street, were already sweeping up out front.
The protest made its way to Emeryville. At the junction of 40th Street and San Pablo Avenue, a middle-aged African American woman was cuffed and arrested. A younger white woman in the crowd yelled to her, “Do you need legal assistance?” Police cars, armored cars and vans were on the scene, and officers were dressed in riot gear. The officers established a kettle formation, in which officers standing shoulder-to-shoulder form a box around a group of protesters. They contained around 150 protesters in the space of one block. A group of protesters verbalized their anger with the police, shouting “How do you sleep at night?” and “Put your toys away!”
At midnight, the police gave an order to disperse. Ten to 15 minutes later, the police charged those protesters who had not left the area. At least one protester was physically subdued by the police, and others were arrested, bringing the total to 92 for the evening. According to an Oakland Police Department press release, three law enforcement officers were also injured on Tuesday night.
A statement issued by the Temescal Merchants Association Wednesday morning expressed “frustration, disappointment and anger” at the protesters’ behavior and the damage caused. “In addition to the daily effort of keeping a small business running those directly affected will have to bear the expense and work required to repair and reopen,” the statement said. “None of this advances the goals of those who protest with good cause. … The task of building a more just and fair society is one we all need to take up together.”
For Marquez, the co-owner of Arbor Cafe, this morning’s work was to clean up the damage to his shop, where vandals smashed two windows and broke the front door in an effort to get inside. The protest had lost its peaceful manner, Marquez said he knew, when he saw a “large-ass fire” in front of Beauty’s Bagel Shop down the street. “I heard percussion explosions,” he said. A friend told him that the sound might be coming from car tires burning in the fire. Marquez said that he was thankful that people from the community helped prevent further damage. “I just stood there and calmly waited for them to pass,” Marquez said of the protesters.
Later in the evening, Oakland Public Works employees came and power-hosed the paint off the sidewalk and street, he said, and boarded up his broken windows from the inside. How much this will cost him and his insurance is uncertain, he said. By Wednesday morning, Marquez hadn’t slept. He spent the entire night cleaning up wet paint and broken glass, and repairing his store. “That was the plan,” he said while standing in front of his cafe at 7:55 am, “to not become a complete victim of the circumstances.”
With windows boarded and dried paint smeared on the floor inside, his cafe opened five minutes later. Marquez laughed and looked back at his store. “This place is dirtier than I thought it was,” he said.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the name of the business is Beauty’s Bagel Shop, not Bagel’s Beauty Shop. Oakland North regrets the error.