Police fire tear gas at 'Black Lives Matter' protesters in Berkeley
Originally published at The Daily Californian on December 7, 2014.
By Jessie Lau and Melissa Wen
Explosions and screams erupted across Berkeley as more than 100 police officers deployed tear gas on protesters Saturday night and some protesters vandalized shops and blocked traffic in an approximately 10-hour-long demonstration against recent grand jury decisions on police killings of mostly unarmed black men and youth.
Approximately 40 demonstrators began the march peacefully about 5 p.m., growing into a crowd that at its peak contained about 1,000 participants. Demonstrators protested the decisions made by grand juries not to indict the police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown, a black man shot by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner, who died after a New York officer put him in an apparent chokehold. Protesters also denounced the death of Kayla Moore, a transgender woman who died in police custody in Berkeley last year, and the alleged abduction of 43 students by police in Mexico.
“I’m here because it’s not possible for me to sit down while my people are killed,” said Alanna Williams, a black freshman at Mills College in Oakland who was at the protest. “It seems like no one … understands what it’s like. Nobody gets why I’m angry all the time. I cried when I heard that (the officer who shot Michael Brown) wasn’t indicted. It made me feel unsafe.”
The crowd originally consisted largely of community members from Berkeley and surrounding cities, but it was joined by a rush of UC Berkeley students later in the night, as the interactions between police and demonstrators escalated in violence.
Police charged toward protesters about 10:30 p.m. at the intersection of Telegraph and Durant avenues after issuing multiple dispersal orders. Officers deployed tear gas, causing protesters to run south down Telegraph Avenue — some screaming and pushing one another. Multiple rounds of tear gas were released about 1 a.m., and some protesters found what appeared to be rubber bullets on the ground. One man who had a wound on his back said he was hit by one.
Yitz Deng, a UC Berkeley freshman, was hit by a cloud of tear gas while at the protest.
“The feeling was horrible, and after getting out into a side street, I could hear many people groaning, asking for water,” Deng said in an email.
Initially, several officers followed the demonstration by bicycle. About 6 p.m., protesters organized a “die-in” near the Downtown Berkeley BART station. There, protesters read out the names of victims who died from police use of force before holding a moment of silence.
Tensions rose between protesters and police officers after 6 p.m., when the crowd gathered in front of the Berkeley Police and Fire Public Safety Building, chanting slogans such as “hands up, don’t shoot.” About 100 police officers eventually formed barricades. Later, police released smoke bombs into the crowd.
“(This protest) is important because our lives as black people — we’re always being devalued in society,” said Kaejon Townsend, a UC Berkeley freshman at the protest who also participated in the Thursday occupation at the Golden Bear Cafe against police violence.
Throughout the night, police in riot gear formed multiple lines, blocking several intersections as protesters traveled away from the police building and around the Downtown area before going up to Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue. Along the way, protesters damaged property that included windows at Radio Shack and Wells Fargo and crates outside Trader Joe’s. An officer required hospital treatment for a dislocated shoulder after demonstrators threw bricks, rocks and other objects at police, according to Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Officer Jennifer Coats. Police vehicles were allegedly vandalized.
According to Coats, a preliminary count at the end of the night showed that five adults and one juvenile were arrested. Berkeley police received assistance from more than a hundred officers from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol, BART police and Oakland, Pleasanton, Hayward and Alameda police departments.
Two male protesters required medical attention, but paramedics had difficulties reaching them. Marcel Davis, a 22-year-old Berkeley homeless man, had a seizure and said police hit him with a baton.
As of 9:30 p.m., more than 100 police officers blocked the intersection of Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue. The crowd of protesters had swelled to about 200 and included many UC Berkeley students. Police proceeded to push protesters back on Telegraph and Durant avenues, during which demonstrators chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, police state has got to go.” Police declared the assembly unlawful and later surged at the crowd.
“One person got thrown down to the ground (by police),” said Spencer Scobie, a UC Berkeley junior who was standing near the police line. “Police pushed people back with batons.”
After police deployed a first round of tear gas, the protesters were split into roughly three groups. One group of about 150 protesters walked to Oakland and then marched to 66th Street and Shattuck Avenue after being pushed south by officers.
The other groups, surrounded by police, remained between Channing Way and Haste Street. Some protesters were holding what appeared to be firecrackers, and the crowd chanted slogans such as “black lives matter.” About 1 a.m., as police deployed several more rounds of gas, about 250 protesters were pushed back toward Oakland before heading Downtown. An hour later, they doubled back toward campus.
By 3 a.m., the crowd of protesters had largely dispersed, with only about 15 people near the corner of Telegraph and Durant avenues.
Senior staff writers Sophie Ho and Katy Abbott and staff writers Chloee Weiner and G. Haley Massara contributed to this report.