Sounds of fireworks, bullhorns and music filled the streets last week in Oakland. Chants of “Justice for Jacob Blake” and “No justice, no peace” could be heard from the high end apartment complexes near Oscar Grant Plaza. Some small business owners handed out water and supplies to protesters while other small businesses boarded up their property to protect from looters.
Protesters on the front line marched in front of the crowd with their fists balled and held up in the air. Others in the group broke off and vandalized retail shops and various objects on the streets such as parking meters and rentable scooters. Protesters dressed up in riot gear and brought shields as they anticipated a standoff with the Oakland Police Department.
The protest, which started at Oakland City Hall, consisted of close to 400 people with no clear cut leader. Many came after a post on Twitter stated that there was going to be a protest downtown with the location to be determined on the day of the protest. Many groups such as BAMN (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary) and the Oakland Socialists were there along with some self-proclaimed members of Black Lives Matter, but none of these groups said they were leading this protest.
The group started off as mostly peaceful, but escalated deeper into the night. The federal courthouse on Clay St. was vandalized as well as some businesses in downtown.
Many protesters believed they were in the right by protesting. They said they wanted change and justice for the unjust shootings of African American men. Others in the Oakland community believed in protests but strongly condemned the rioting.
“At the end of the day, preach and protest. Do what’s right. But don’t come down here and destroy stuff because when we come down here and try to take care of our business we can’t do it. Why? Cause all this s—,” said Oakland resident Renee Brotoun.
The protest began with speakers voicing what the goal of the protests was and what they hoped to accomplish by the end of the night. Many on stage demanded change by asking for peaceful protests. There were others who demanded that “we burn it down to the ground” and to “tear down the system.”
Some protesters wore riot gear along with helmets and shields to protect themselves from any type of confrontation with police.
“I always feel like they’re a block away. They have an internal rulebook that they follow to disrupt our protest. We have to stay prepared to protect ourselves and in some cases, fight back,” said Jason, a protester who wanted to keep his identity hidden.
There were also trained medics on the scene who were ready to help any injured or hurt protesters at any time. They wore blue and had a red cross somewhere on their clothing to indicate they were medics. They were also the ones who provided masks and water for protesters.
Although many protesters were from the Bay Area, older Oakland residents took issue with the protests that were about to take place. A group of older African American residents approached some of the speakers and voiced why they shouldn’t be protesting in the first place.
“You’re making it hard for us. We can’t even live with them tearing up stuff. I don’t even like the police, but you’re making it hard to live here,” said Brotoun.
The act of looting and rioting greatly upset many of the Oakland residents, but many protesters promoted the acts. One protester who went to speak in front of the crowd said, “Don’t be afraid to burn down. If we smashed windows every time they did something, they’d stop doing it.”
When the marching started,, hundreds of protesters walked west down 14th Street. They were met with resistance by police who blocked off the intersection of 6th and Washington where Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse is located .
The protesters circled back around and went to the Oakland Federal Courthouse. There, protesters vandalized the courthouse by spray painting the front doors until they were ambushed by police. Police shot rubber bullets at protesters to move them away from the area.
While walking back to Oscar Grant Plaza, protesters smashed windows to some businesses downtown. Some of the protesters tried to stop others from vandalizing with some getting confrontational. Parking meters, E-Scooters and some cars were destroyed along the march.
The protests went throughout the night, and property was destroyed. There was much controversy on how the protests should have been run and there was also some discontent since there was not a clear leader. Long time Oakland residents approached the protesters before the march started and emphasized to not vandalize the city.
Many protesters thought the protests were helping spread awareness for the shooting of unarmed African Americans in recent months, but some Oakland residents seemed displeased with how the protests were organized.
Protests will continue for the next upcoming weeks as the civil unrest in the country has reached an all time high.
Nathan Canilao is the editor-in-chief of The Express. Follow him @nathancanilao.