Oakland Black Lives Matter Protest
Oakland has long been a hotbed for activism. From the beginnings of the Black Panthers in the 60s to the adoption of 2pac in the 90s, Oakland has seen it's fair share of notable movements and figures claim the town as home. While times have surely changed, the struggles of years past still pushes on. In 2009, while I still attended high school, Oakland was once again thrust into the national spotlight. Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22 year old black man with his hands pinned behind his back, was murdered by a BART cop, Johannes Mehserle. What made this so pivotal to the movement was that it happened in front of a large, peaceful crowd and that a few of those onlookers happened to be filming the situation on their smart phones. With no chance in the world that my parents would let me attend the protests, I looked towards the news for updates on what was going on. As America looked upon Oakland, the people protested. Things became violent and out-of-towners proceeded to trash Downtown. Eight years later and the murder and sentencing of Mehserle is still is a sore subject for Oakland. The story has become immortalized by Hollywood in the film titled Fruitvale Station in 2013. I still haven't seen the film out of disgust of the actual event.
The cause of these protests comes from three main sources: the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by policemen in Minnesota and Louisiana and the covering up of multiple rape and assault cases within the Oakland Police Department. News of the murders came just a few weeks after initial reports of the scandal. With three specific events fueling the anger of the people, it was time for Oakland to stay true to its activist roots and come together in peaceful protest. Word spread on Facebook that a protest would be forming at 6pm on July 7 in Downtown Oakland. The protests began early enough in the night for the sun to be out. Impassioned speakers gathered a crowd at the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. A news helicopter flew above, relaying footage to the nation. Speaking into an amplified microphone atop a set of stairs, the speakers made it clear that the corruption and unwarranted brutality from those in power needed to stop.
The crowd of over 1,000 proceeded to march down Broadway, the main street downtown, towards the Oakland Police Department's headquarters. Chants of "no justice, no peace" rang through the crowd. After walking seven blocks, the crowd stopped at the HQ. Hundreds of additional protesters had arrived by now, packing the wide street with people standing shoulder-to-shoulder. A man stood in front of the entrance to the police station speaking in a raised voice. I assume that he made a beautiful speech, but unlike the first set of people speaking, he had no means of amplifying his voice to the gathered people.
With the crowd moving along after the speech, I got my first look of the police station. Bottles of red paint had been thrown on the door. As I stood there watching onlookers take turns snapping pictures of the freshly painted red doors, a few individuals took things a little further and used the paint to make a bold statement. The first protester wrote "RAPIST," "MURDER," and "PIGS" while the following two wrote "FUCK YOU." As I looked around to see where the next move would be, my eyes focused in on a thinned out portion of the crowd walking up the off ramp to the 880 freeway the next block over.
I wasn't necessarily shocked by the turn to this protest, but I was surprised. Stopping traffic on a major freeway is not something that just happens every protest. By the time I walked up the exit ramp and made it to the freeway, the traffic had already been stopped. Thankfully, both the traffic and the people were amicably coexisting. Graffiti was being sprayed all over the cement and there was no presence of police to stop it. With the helicopters still floating above, all of us protesters were just happy that our voice was being heard. The hundreds of protesters were unsurprisingly diverse, reflecting the city of Oakland in its true form; people of all age and colors banded together. Not before long live music began. Brass and drums came together to play music of the late Bay Area legend Mac Dre. We felt solidarity.
News broke of the Dallas shooting while we were on the freeway. I made sure to refresh Twitter every couple of minutes for updates, but didn't hear any talk of it by the other protesters. Because of that, tensions remained as they had been all night, and I didn't grow any more worried for my safety. Although I felt the calm of the situation first hand, those close to me were worried as multiple calls and texts came to my phone. Despite their pleas, I remained at the protest for another hour.
I left well before the rest of the crowd. My friends were growing hungry and I was tired of making my father and girlfriend worried for my safety. It was a successful protest; the statement was made to the world.