Police halt protesters, Black Bloc starts chaos
Police shut down demonstration, arrest 41 protesters in two days
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OAKLAND — About an hour into the march, tear gas, burning garbage, sage and incense smoke wafted through a hundred protesters bottlenecked at Washington Street and 8th Street at about 8 p.m. in downtown Oakland on Wednesday.
Most people in the intersection were disoriented and fled to safety, just like the flat-bed truck carrying protest organizers did when the Oakland Police Department determined the demonstration to be an unlawful gathering a few minutes before the chaos.
But as the smoke settled, scores of police officers surrounded a few people who sat in the middle of the intersection, cross-legged and holding up signs and their hands.
Behind the protesters holding up signs that read “United we are Strong/ I am with you brother and sister” a fire burned. It was set by small groups of people who refer to themselves as “black bloc,” who dress in all black and wear masks at large protests.
At this point the thousands of protesters that originally gathered at 14th and Broadway in downtown were split and property was begging to be damaged.
Police officers began pushing their lines forward and arresting protesters who came to express their grievances with the underlying xenophobia and nationalism that fueled President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign.
Since then, there have been five days of protests throughout the Bay Area and hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets nationwide to protest Trump’s victory and express their frustration with the electoral system.
Among the first to be arrested was Anure McGee on Wednesday, an 18-year-old senior enrolled in the Gateway to College high school program at Contra Costa College.
McGee was among the people in the intersection, on the frontline when the police began to squeeze space, push protesters back and arrest people resisting.
“I found myself in the middle of a group of old men — police officers. I was getting tossed around like a hot pocket or something. I’ve never been in that kind of moment before,” she said. “I didn’t go out there to get arrested.
“They could have handled that in a different manner. The police were the ones to force the protest to get to where it did. When people started tearing up the streets I was already arrested.
“They put a knee on my back and aggressively put me in handcuffs, as if I were an animal. Like I had a weapon and I was going to pull it out.”
Before the police began announcing it was an unlawful gathering, fireworks were tossed from the crowd of protesters toward the police line at about 8 p.m., and a fire was started near the congested intersection.
“They just smoke bombed us. This had been a peaceful protest until some people acted up,” Rachel Masoude, one of the protesters holding up signs in the intersection, said. “The cops just said what we were doing was unlawful, but the police were the ones escalating the situation.”
McGee said she does not regret getting arrested and understands how fear can escalate an otherwise peaceful situation. She encourages others to protest during the day and respect property, but within such a large crowd of people frustrated with the current state of politics, it is understandable how the situation could have gotten carried out of hand.
“This is not a game. They aren’t playing,” protest organizer Alizia Walters said from the bed of the flatbed truck surrounded by thousands of Bay Area residents on 14th and Broadway as she pointed to police officers blocking traffic on Wednesday night at about 7:30 p.m.
“We are at war. So suit up, gear up, train up, join up and organize. Fuck this shit. We can’t go down without a fight.”
As the flat-bed truck pulled out of the plaza, Walters asked the crowd to show the world that disciplined and organized resistance can help bring disenfranchised people together.
“So to all you black folk, brown folk and all you well-meaning white allies we got elders, mamas and children out here who have come to make a disciplined and principled stand against fascism and tyranny — thousands of us y’all.”
The initial protest however was derailed by black bloc members on Washington and 8th streets.
McGee told those on hand, “Stay away from violent protest. Those are not productive and distract from the message people are saying,” she said. “It helps the (corporate) media and Donald Trump stereotype us. It does not reflect our image, and lets people say ‘there they go again.”
In Oakland, 41 people were arrested during the first two nights of protests following Trump’s victory speech in New York early Wednesday morning, according to the Oakland Police Department officials.
Most of the people who were arrested on Wednesday and Thursday do not live in the city.
As life-long Oakland resident Noel Smith was trying to put out the initial fire that caused the police to determine the protests unlawful at Washington and 8th streets on Wednesday, some people told her to “let it burn.”
Smith continued to stomp out the fire and others helped her as the people who started the fires slowly left the area and walked back onto Broadway.
“When property is destroyed, problems begin to happen. Upset people came out here to protest Trump,” she said. “Oakland is a place where change can happen, but it cannot be done by tearing up the city we love.”