Bay Area protesters joined tens of thousands of others marching nationwide Saturday against police brutality in a demonstration dubbed the “Millions March.”
The protests began peacefully all over the Bay Area in the afternoon. In Oakland, more than 3,000 people peacefully marched from Frank Ogawa Plaza to the Alameda County Courthouse waving “Black Lives Matter” signs and chanting “I can’t breathe!”
Or: “‘Hands up, don’t shoot!”
Cat Brooks, an Oakland-based organizer who helped coordinate the march, set the tone of the afternoon early at Broadway and 14th Street, calling black people to the front of the crowd.
“We appreciate our white allies, and we appreciate you not using a megaphone today,” Brooks said.
Brooks says that the current nationwide protests against police brutality have roots in the Oakland protests over the killing of Oscar Grant.
“The civil rights movement didn’t just happen in 1960, 1970. It started in the ’20s and the ’30s in New York, and that’s how organizing goes,” she said. “What people are clamoring for is developing long-term solutions so that excitement doesn’t just happen when we catch the cops killing someone on camera.”
Organizers called for the federal government to intervene in what they call biased investigations of police.
Chinasa Ozonsi also helped organize the march and is a member of the Black Student Union at Cal State East Bay.
“Today is a collective effort by a coalition of various community-based groups,” she said. “We’re gathered here today to mourn the loss of Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others who have essentially been killed by terrorism, police terrorism.”
Her brother, Ifeany Ozonsi, is a student at City College of San Francisco, studying biology. He said he and his sister were born and raised in Hunters Point.
“Honestly it makes me feel sad,” he said. “I’m a black American male, and I have to have a certain fear. Even if I’m doing good, if I’m walking down the street I could get shot just for being black. It’s scary.”
He added: “Peace, that’s all we want. I want to be able to live a peaceful and fear-free life.”
Several hundred black people led the march of thousands from Oakland’s city center to the René C. Davidson Courthouse at 12th and Fallon streets. The crowd filled city blocks for at least half the route.
Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant, spoke in front of the courthouse.
“We want officers to be held accountable for their actions,” she said. “[To] feel that pain just as we have to feel it.”
Hundreds of people dispersed after several speeches at the courthouse. But after dark, a much smaller group of people continued marching on.
While several hundred people marched up Harrison Street, a group of people vandalized the Whole Foods store and attacked a photographer.
Police gave an order to disperse and the crowd turned away from Lake Merritt. A group of cyclists cleared the way as demonstrators on foot marched back toward Interstate 880. That began an ongoing evening of cat-and-mouse with police, who would shut down on-ramps and streets as protesters neared.
Protests in San Francisco
In San Francisco, hundreds of people staged a “die-in” at the Ferry Building. Several Muni bus lines and the Embarcadero Center were briefly shut down as thousands of people marched up Market Street to the Civic Center.
In front of City Hall, Refugio Nieto, the father of Alejandro Nieto, and Cadine Williams, the sister of O’Shaine Evans, spoke about what it was like to have their family members fatally shot by San Francisco police.
“This is a life you’re taking. You took someone’s loved one from them. So every time I get a chance, I’m marching to let you know who O’Shaine Evans is. And that we want justice, and hopefully by the time they get to O’Shaine Evans’ case, we will get some justice. Because I see Eric Garner, and I see Michael Brown, and there was no justice,” Williams said.
She expressed empathy with those protesters who become violent, saying that they see breaking things as the only way to express their anger.
“People are angry. This is a calmer group of people, but people are angry. I’m angry, my brother is gone, I’m never going to see my brother again,” Williams said. “I see my mother every day crying; that’s enough to make me angry. And when I get angry I get out there, I get out there in the street and I protest.”
San Francisco protesters briefly mixed into Santa Con revelers downtown. One demonstrator, James Jennison, used the annual holiday event as a disguise. Jennison, dressed as Santa, says that he had a flash bang explode on his foot at a peaceful protest in Berkeley where “cops started instigating stuff.”
“I’d like to see some more accountability with law enforcement and the way that they are trained and the way that they handle situations,” he said.
Jennison was one of 79 people arrested in San Francisco on Black Friday, and was charged with obstructing an officer, a felony, as well as a misdemeanor battery on a police officer. He said he hoped that Saturday’s protest would stay peaceful because violence takes away from the message he wants to send.
Downtown, high-end shops like Dior and Prada closed an hour early Saturday night, at 6 p.m. Gump’s boarded its windows and had additional security guards. Protesters continued up from the Civic Center, demonstrating at the Mission Police Station and briefly blocking 24th and Mission streets.
In Berkeley, police removed life-size photographs of lynching victims that had been hung on the Cal campus. Investigators believe they were connected to a smaller protest in Berkeley at noon.
Berkeley protest organizers said they didn’t know where they came from.
“We hope that it’s someone who wanted to bring attention to the issue,” said one of the organizers, Spencer Pritchard.
Day of Protest in Pictures
Nickolai Morris contributed to this report.