Protesters Vandalize Oakland Police Building With 'MURDERERS', Set Fire, Shut Down Freeway | NBC Bay Area
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Protesters Vandalize Oakland Police Building With 'MURDERERS', Set Fire, Shut Down Freeway

Of the 2,000 protesters who attended the rally, seven were arrested.

It began as a peaceful demonstration in Oakland, but turned into vandalism and hours-long traffic gridlock. Pete Suratos reports. (Published Friday, July 8, 2016)

Protesters recited poetry, marched peacefully and rallied for an end to the violence. They also set fires, ripped down a highway sign, blocked traffic and wrote the word "MURDERERS" on Oakland police headquarters.

And out of the 2,000 people who attended Thursday night's "Shut it Down" rally in Oakland, only seven people were arrested: Five by Oakland police, mostly for vandalism, and two by the California Highway Patrol, for disobeying a lawful dispersal order.

Protest Against Police Violence in Oakland Protest Against Police Violence in Oakland

The mood throughout the night, and the country, was mixed: There was anger and vandalism. There were calls for peace. And there were many, many questions.

"What can I do to help make change?" asked Zola Rodgers, an African-American sister of a police officer as she stood Friday outside the tagged Oakland police department. "It's a really complex question. There is  no simple answer."

The most recent questioning was ignited this week by the police shooting deaths of two men, Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana, this week. That's what the Oakland rally was about. Two hours into it, across the country, a sniper, identified as Micah Xavier Johnson, killed five Dallas police officers telling hostage negotiators that he wanted "to kill white people" and was tired of the injustices perpetrated on people of color, like himself. He was eventually killed by a robot bomb.

Shut It Down Rally in Oakland Shut It Down Rally in Oakland

All that angst combined for a long evening that saw mostly civil disobedience intertwined with pockets of crime in Oakland, one of the many Ground Zeros for the Black Lives Matter movement in the nation.

Some protesters broke glass at shops and spray painted a daunting message to police that read "MURDERERS." Other graffiti at department headquarters read "F--- the police," and "All Cops Suck." Nearby, there were smashed windows at Foot Locker, Smart and Final and Chase Bank on Broadway at 14th Street.

Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said five arrests were made and one citation issued, mostly for broken glass and vandalism. Of those, someone was arrested for burglarizing the Smart and Final, and two people were arrested for throwing bottles at officers. Only one arrest was made so far for defiling police headquarters, she said. The CHP also made two arrests.

"We were out facilitating so our community can come out and voice in a safe environment," Watson said. 

Long before the glass was broken and the graffiti was sprayed in Oakland, there was a peaceful, albeit loud, gathering of people giving speeches, marching and chanting things like, "Whose street? Our streets!" There was even time for poetry. “I live in a systematic society today where I’m expected to act a certain way if not I could be shot dead,” a young poet read to the crowd.

Protesters who attended said they were not only upset about the shooting deaths of black men. But in Oakland, they were also riled up because of a sex scandal rocking several East Bay police departments, prompting three police chiefs to have to step step down in a matter of days last month.

Diedra Barber, who attended the rally, tweeted, "Can't hear anything, but nice to be around other angry people." She snapped a photo of people holding signs that read, "Stop racist police terror!" and "Fight Back! Stop the war on Black America!" One white woman said she came out to "support my black brothers and sisters who are being systematically being murdered in this country."

"When the guy is saying, 'I have an open carry permit,' and you're doing all the right steps and you still end up dead, you just think the safest black man in America will be President Obama, you know?" said Jaren Stewart of Benicia.

Later in the evening, an estimated 1,000 people moved to Interstate Highway 880 at Broadway and stayed there well into the night, some even played music and danced in what looked to be a party atmosphere.

But then the mood changed.

Someone set a fire and ripped a Caltrans sign down. The CHP closed that part of the freeway from about 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday.

Most who attended the rally, however, called for the anger to subside, and asked that more reasonable approaches prevail in figuring out how to deal with the nation's gripping racial tensions.

"It's really dangerous out there," Jonathan Hannah said. "One's life isn't above another's."

 

Contact Lisa Fernandez at lisa.fernandez@nbcuni.com or 408-432-4758. Follow on Twitter at @ljfernandez

 

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