Berkeley/Oakland protests, day 6

Originally published in the Bay City News Service, Dec. 11, 2014.

Demonstrators took to the streets in Berkeley and Oakland for the sixth night in as many days to protest two grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. Photo by Erin Baldassari/Bay City News Service.

Demonstrators took to the streets in Berkeley and Oakland for the sixth night in as many days to protest two grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. Photo by Erin Baldassari/Bay City News Service.

A demonstration that started in Berkeley ended abruptly in Oakland Wednesday night when an undercover law enforcement officer pulled out a gun and pointed it at the crowd.

Only a few dozen protesters remained from a mass of between 150 and 200 people. Two officers, both dressed as civilians and wearing bandanas over their faces, were walking with the group when the demonstrators started pointing at them yelling, “Hey, they’re undercover, they’re cops!”

Oakland police Lt. Chris Bolton wrote on Twitter this morning that the officer was not an Oakland police officer. Bolton said Oakland police were the first to respond to the scene on a report from another agency.

Bolton wrote, “That outside agency has been notified to provide details and address concerns” regarding the officers’ behavior at the protest. Media inquiries are now being directed to the California Highway Patrol.

One Berkeley resident, Dylan, who declined to give his last name, said he pulled off the officer’s bandana. The two policemen started to walk away, but the protesters persisted, screaming at the two undercover cops. One of the officers pushed a protester aside. The man responded by pushing back and then the officer tackled him to the ground, handcuffing him.

The crowd, incensed, began to gather around them. The second officer pulled out his gun and pointed it at the crowd. More officers quickly arrived and dispersed the crowd.

“I’m a white man, and I pulled off (the officer’s) mask, but they punched a black man,” Dylan said. “He got arrested.”

The march started on the University of California at Berkeley’s campus, near the heart of the Free Speech Movement memorial. A group of roughly 100 to 150 people marched through campus, at one point entering a talk at Wheeler Hall, where PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel was speaking.

The demonstrators were initially barred from entering the auditorium, but they forced their way through with at least two people climbing over the crowd to make it past the doors. After several minutes of pushing, the protesters took over the stage and ended the discussion with chants of “black lives matter.” They were met with an audience that booed them and told them to “go home.”

Manpreet Syal, a fourth-year business student at UC Berkeley, was among the audience at the talk. She said Thiel had just finished speaking about the effectiveness of the nationwide demonstrations.

Across the country, and in the Bay Area for several straight nights, people have taken to the streets to protest decisions by grand juries in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York to not indict white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men.

“I do support their cause and their right to protest, but I think coming into the talk tonight was a little misguided,” Syal said. “I don’t think that’s the definition of a peaceful protest.”

The demonstration left campus, but not before at least one man was detained by police outside Wheeler Hall. The march was largely led by organizers of the activist group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN).

Tania Kappner, a BAMN organizer and Berkeley alumna, said the organization will continue to call for demonstrations until former Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson is jailed for killing Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old.

Kappner said BAMN wants to see all “killer cops jailed” and for charges to be dropped against demonstrators who had been arrested during the marches.

The group walked to downtown Oakland, growing slightly in size, without incident. Once downtown, some people in the crowd picked up rocks and threw it at several businesses, shattering a glass door at a T-Mobile store.

The march Wednesday night was the sixth in as many days. The demonstration disrupted BART service at the Lake Merritt, 12th Street, and Ashby stations. In other nights, the demonstrations have shut down freeways and stopped Amtrak trains.

Earlier on Wednesday, Berkeley High School students staged a die-in and march. Vernon Neely, a 16-year-old Berkeley High School student said he was among them.

“I’ve been out here demonstrating since 2:30 in the afternoon,” Neely said. “I’m half black and half Puerto Rican, so I just feel like the system is so messed up. If this is the only way for us to be heard, then we need to do it.”

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