A protest through the streets of downtown Oakland, California, in support of racial justice and police reform turned violent when a small group of demonstrators wearing helmets and goggles and carrying large signs that doubled as shields set fire to a courthouse, vandalized a police station and shot fireworks at officers, authorities said.
About 700 demonstrators participated in what started as a peaceful march Saturday night but then some broke from the larger group and smashed windows, spray-painted graffiti and pointed lasers at officers, said Officer Johnna Watson, an Oakland Police Department spokesperson.
Several fires were set in the downtown area, including one at the Alameda County Superior Courthouse that was quickly contained. Demonstrators hurled rocks, ceramic paint-filled balls and frozen water bottles through windows at the courthouse, federal building and police building in a raucous night that was unlike peaceful marches that have taken place in the city in recent weeks, Watson said.
“This was different,” Watson said. “This group of protesters had specific intentions to participate in one way or another — whether that’s carrying backpacks in with clearly very heavy items, and the smaller group would actually be engaged in doing the damage — there is a nexus with all of the attendees.”
Police made several arrests but did not provide details. There were no immediate reports of injuries to protesters or officers or immediate cost estimates of the vandalism, Watson said.
The protest began earlier Saturday evening with groups such as the “Wall of Moms,” similar to a group that formed in Portland, Oregon, as protesters faced off with U.S. agents deployed to that city to guard a federal courthouse. President Donald Trump had sent the federal agents there to clamp down on protests that have occurred nightly since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
As the night wore on in Oakland, Watson said police called on demonstrators to disperse and little by little they did, but said they would be back.
“The city is here to provide safe places and safe spaces for demonstrations, for marches, for protests,” Watson said, adding that many area businesses were likely spared damage because they were already boarded up following earlier demonstrations. “However, when there is violence against the police or first responders, this makes it dangerous for everyone.”
On Sunday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned in a statement that the vandalism could be used by Trump to justify sending federal agents to the city — a proposal that she has rejected.
“We celebrate passionate protest but Oaklanders need to know that when they attend protests after dark, they may be providing cover for agitators who are more intent on stoking civil unrest than advancing racial justice,” Schaaf said.