UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union leads peaceful protest march from campus to Oakland

The UC Berkeley Black Student Union organized a march from campus to Oakland Saturday. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
The UC Berkeley Black Student Union organized a march from campus to Oakland Saturday Dec. 13, 2014. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Despite being shaken by the appearance of effigies hanging from nooses on campus Saturday morning, UC Berkeley Black Student Union (BSU) leaders said they didn’t want that incident to affect their planned march against police killings of black people. Approximately 300 protesters met at Sproul Plaza at noon and, over the course of nearly three hours, marched to downtown Oakland to join forces with the larger “Millions March” demonstration that had gathered there.

Read more of Berkeleyside’s Berkeley protest coverage.

The march was calm, with the crowd following orders and cues from the BSU organizers in the front. Led by a car, the protesters walked up Bancroft Way to College Avenue, headed south, paused for about 20 minutes to occupy the intersection of College and Ashby avenues, and eventually continued onto Broadway. Police instructed the car to turn off College before entering Oakland.

The demonstrators occupied the intersection of College and Ashby for about 20 minutes before continuing south. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
The demonstrators occupied the intersection of College and Ashby for about 20 minutes before continuing south. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

“We wanted to get together locally because, even though we can help people get to the [Oakland] march, we want to show that this is a Berkeley issue,” said Zaynab Abdulqadir, a UC Berkeley freshman and member of the BSU. “We need to show that we in the Berkeley community have an opinion about what’s happening in the nation.”


The BSU, which has about 50 active members, has organized previous actions to protest the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, and the grand juries’ decisions not to indict the responsible officers. The students occupied Golden Bear Café earlier this month for 4.5 hours, the length of time Brown was left lying on the ground after being shot. (The BSU uses the hashtag #Ferguson2Cal.)

“Our mission is to disrupt business as usual, to elevate the point that black lives matter,” said Myles Santifer, a junior and chair of the BSU. He said Saturday’s event was designed to send a message to the student body during the weekend preceding finals week. “Everyone can be on that one-track mind, while every 28 hours a black man is killed by police and vigilantes. In Berkeley we want to wake people up to realize: how would you feel if that was your reality? As black students we feel that reality.”

Before the march began, Alana Banks, a junior and BSU member, asked the protesters not to destroy property and businesses, and to follow behind the leaders. She also asked non-black allies to listen to the black leaders and relinquish their megaphones. “Black voices matter too,” she said.

Cal junior Alana Banks, speaking to Elmwood business owners: "We're not here to destroy your shit. We're here because black lives matter." Photo: Natalie Orenstein
Cal junior Alana Banks speaking to Elmwood business owners: “We’re not here to destroy your shit. We’re here because black lives matter.” Photo: Natalie Orenstein

The only moment of tension during the march came when a woman tried to drive her car through the protests in Elmwood. Some protesters moved to swarm the vehicle, but the leaders yelled, “Move to the sidewalk!” and “Don’t retaliate!” (Watch a video of the incident, shot by Laurie Kahn, below.) The majority of the crowd erupted into chants of “Peaceful protest!” and the march quickly continued south.

Moments before the car incident, Banks had climbed atop a trashcan. Speaking to business owners who were emerging from their shops, she said, “We’re not here to destroy your shit. We’re here because black lives matter…These are our streets.”


Many bystanders in the Elmwood and Rockridge cheered and clapped in solidarity. Some protesters responded, “Join us!” As the march continued south on Broadway, cars regularly honked in support.

The protesters echoed the varied chants of the leaders, occasionally dancing in the streets or walking in silence with fists raised. There were no confrontations with the police, who trailed the protest in a van and kept some distance up front on bikes. Once the marched entered Oakland, more officers were present.

Most marchers were UC Berkeley students, but a sizable number of older community members and families joined the crowd. Also in attendance was Berkeley Pastor Michael McBride who has spent several weeks in Ferguson following the death of Brown. (Read Berkeleyside’s recent interview with Pastor McBride.)

Bystanders come outside to cheer on the protesters. Some respond: "Join us!" Photo: Natalie Orenstein
People came outside businesses on the demonstration’s path  to cheer on the protesters. Some responded: “Join us!” Photo: Natalie Orenstein

McBride was late to the march because he was responding on campus to the appearances of the effigies, which he called “radically insensitive at best, and a reinscription of racial terror.” He was glad to find the demonstration in full force.

“We don’t want it to distract from this powerful expression of solidarity today, an expression of multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-faith students, neighbors, citizens,” he said. “We wont be deterred and we won’t be distracted.”


Around 3:30 p.m., the UC Berkeley protest met up with the Millions March in front of the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland. For updates on that march, follow #oaklandprotest on Twitter. There were also Millions March protests in San Francisco and New York City on Saturday.

Update, 11:15 p.m. The afternoon march that began in Berkeley was, by all accounts, peaceful, but protest activities took a different turn in Oakland shortly before 5 p.m. The Oakland Police Department released the following statement at 11:10 p.m. about what it said took place.

Today, December 13, 2014, approximately 2500-3000 persons marched in the downtown area. The crowd was largely peaceful. Several hours later the crowd downsized to approximately 500 people. Several reports of vandalism including broken windows and small fires were reported. At approximately 4:49PM, OPD requested mutual aid. At this time we have arrested several dozen protesters for various crimes such as vandalism and failure to disperse. 

At least 45 arrests were made for various crimes such as vandalism, failure to disperse and resisting arrest. Additionally seven citations were issued for vehicle code violations (CVC) and one citation for an Oakland Municipal (OMC) violation code was issued. 

Outside agencies that assisted were: Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, Alameda Police Department, Berkeley Police Department, Emeryville Police Department, Fremont Police Department, Newark Police Department, Union City Police Department, Pleasanton Police Department, Hayward Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and Oakland Housing Authority Police Department. 

Currently there are no reports of protester activity.

Related:
Effigies in nooses hung from Sather Gate at UC Berkeley before Black Lives Matter protest (12.13.14)
Police Review Commission asks for suspension of tear gas (12.12.14)
2 officials demand investigation into tear gas use (12.10.14)
Op-ed: 5 myths about East Bay #BlackLivesMatter protests (12.10.14)
Op-ed: Talking about violence is not a distraction — The Berkeley protests for Ferguson (12.10.14)
Berkeley protesters breach freeway again (12.09.14)
Gallery: Third night of Berkeley protests, trains halted, a freeway brought to a standstill (12.09.14)
After protests, City Council meeting cancelled
(12.09.14)
City of Berkeley calls for invite-only press conference for TV news (12.09.14)
CHP arrest 150 protesters after they block I-80 freeway (12.09.14)
City told police to use restraint, avoid tear gas, on second night of protests (12.08.14)
Photo Gallery: Two nights of protests, riots in Berkeley (12.08.14)
Pastor: Brown’s death was the final straw that galvanized communities across the nation (12.08.14)
Protesters take to streets for second night: violence, vandalism of local businesses, looting (12.07.14)
Ferguson demo: injuries reported, tear gas used, property vandalized; arrests (12.06.14)
Cal students, supporters hold ‘black lives matter’ rally (12.04.14)

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