How do we make sense of what happened in downtown Oakland Friday night? A conversation with KMEL’s Durell Coleman

The local radio host, DJ, small-biz investor and Oakland native shares thoughtful reflections on the role of leadership in huge protests, supporting Black businesses and more.

“People should try to listen to the Black voices that are around them every day.” Local radio host Durell Coleman reflects on protests against police violence. Photo: @lexxiuh

Local radio host Durell “DC” Coleman was in downtown Oakland on Friday night, documenting the protest that drew over 8,000 people in response to the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Coleman, an Oakland native, is a familiar voice on Bay Area hip hop station KMEL; a regular deejay at local clubs like Era Art Bar and Lounge, Hello Stranger, and Karibbean City; an investor in downtown Afro-Latinx restaurant and bar SobreMesa, and a passionate supporter of locally owned small businesses.

As he watched protestors attack the headquarters of YR Media, a longstanding nonprofit organization at 17th and Broadway formerly known as Youth Radio, along with several other local downtown businesses, his heart sank.

After leaving the protest, Coleman expressed his frustration in a Twitter thread:

Close to 100 businesses were vandalized during and after protests on Friday and over the weekend, according to the city. In addition to YR Media, locally owned businesses damaged included the New Oakland Pharmacy in Chinatown, Queen Hippie Gypsy, Starlite Child Development Center, and Awaken Café. Widespread looting and destruction continue to affect businesses across the country, and heated debates over how to feel and think about that fact continue to boil.


I caught up with Coleman to get more of his perspective — as an Oakland native, a local business investor and a Black man — on what happened in downtown Oakland over the weekend, and whose voices he hopes will be amplified and heard in this moment. Our conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

What made you decide to go downtown to document the protest on Friday night?

I saw the protest in the news media. Mayor Libby Schaaf put out a press release about it. I saw all of that coming, and then I reached out to reputable community folks, people who are usually the ones who organize around when Black folks are murdered. And every community member that I reached out to either flat out said, “I have nothing to do with it,” or said that they were not endorsing it.

What had you heard about who was organizing the protest, and who was involved?

I saw some folks who were posting a flyer on social media that was not specific and very ambiguous in regards to who was coordinating it. I looked at that and I’m like, this seems a little suspect. Again, folks like the Anti Police-Terror Project and Cat Brooks [co-founder of APTP], they would be the ones to usually lead something like that. And then I saw that they put out a release saying that they didn’t endorse it and were not part of it, and also putting out very specific and intentional language around the fact that it’s not a safe time with COVID-19 for folks to be joining. Which I thought said a lot because those folks care a lot about Black folks and people of color in Oakland.

Many observers of the protests in Oakland, especially what happened Friday night, have commented on how there was a lack of clear, visible leadership. Did that concern you?

I’ve been at a lot of action events. I was at Fruitvale when folks gathered around Oscar Grant’s killing. When Nia Wilson lost her life, I was at that gathering. And there was always someone leading the conversation. That person leading the conversation would be telling folks, “This is how we need to behave; this is how we need to hold people accountable.”

What I saw [Friday night] is that there was no leading voice when I got down there. What there was, was a whole bunch of different groups. Some were marching down Broadway, some were at Frank Ogawa Plaza leading chants, some folks were just standing around. They really wanted to be part of it as a community, but they weren’t collective in any way.

There’s been lots of reporting about the extraordinarily hectic and destructive nature of what happened Friday night. At some point, you learned that something had happened to Youth Radio, and it clearly struck a nerve with you. What did you hear, and why did it matter to you?

I personally am not someone who feels that there is a purpose in looting. I am also not going to tell people how to release their anger or their disdain or mistrust. I can understand if you want to go and bust something up. For instance, folks were like, well, Target is down here and they donate to police stuff and we are gonna go down there because that’s gonna be directly affecting. I’m not gonna be there with you. But also, I’m going to be like, well, that’s how you feel.

In regards to Youth Radio specifically, my position was, the thousands of dollars that are going to have to go to cleaning up the side of that building could go to someone in the program. I’m saying that if you’re from Oakland and you know what that building contributes, or the people inside the building contribute to Oakland culture, you’re not gonna go tag that building. [Youth Radio put out a statement on May 31, saying, that while they were grateful for the support concerning the vandalism, their priority is justice.

Some people have claimed that white people were behind most of the looting and destruction. Others say it was a more diverse group of people. What did you see?

It was definitely a diverse crowd of folks who were doing damage. Now, what damage was done specifically, you can see who was doing it. For example, the Chase Bank on 14th and Broadway, those were definitely adult white men ripping off the plywood panels. Now, that was something that happened early on in terms of people becoming disruptive.

There’s another video of Site for Sore Eyes on Broadway and 9th Street. These were young Latino and Black kids who were throwing bricks at that particular store. It was a lot of folks doing a lot of things. I’m not going to say it was all white folks or all Black folks or all Latinx folks, that’s not what I’m going to say. What I will say is that the initial vandalism was like it was a bunch of grown white men who were very coordinated on what they were trying to do.

Do you think that a lack of leadership contributed to how the night turned out?

I don’t know. I can’t say that one hundred percent. What I can say is that one thing that I saw and appreciated a lot was, at times when folks began to become destructive, there were a few older Black men who were standing out there, and see people be disruptive and be like, no, not here. Almost as if, not in [George Floyd’s] name, you are not going to do that.


There’s a video on my Twitter with a younger kid, not sure of what ethnicity or race. He was spraying “F*** the police” on an AC Transit bus and this older brother with dreadlocks walked over, grabbed him and was like, “Bruh, what is that doing?” The young man ended up walking away continuing what he was doing. I’ll say that leadership is always going to make a difference, when protests are going on, and are the dividing line between what is a protest and what is an organized riot, in my opinion.

I saw that on Saturday morning, you spent some time talking to the owners of Queen Hippie Gypsy Crystal, a Black-owned business whose windows were broken during the protest. What did they share with you about what happened to their store Friday night, and how they feel about it?

What they said to me—and I have a lot of love for Lilly Renee Ayers who runs the space— was that they had broken glass but they weren’t looted. She said that that block is all Black folks and people of color who run businesses. They have the image of a Black woman with an Afro on the window, and that’s the window that they smashed. She said, what’s the point of saying you’re upset about Black people going through hardships in this country or losing their lives when you see an image of a Black woman on a window, and that’s the window you smash?

We’ve been here many times before, with major protests and unrest sparked by the police killing of a Black American. It’s been 11 years since Oscar Grant was killed, and the list of widely known names of people lost since that time is horrifyingly long. Does anything feel different to you about this moment?

Yes. I feel that some of the anger and disruptiveness—it feels crazy to say—had less to do with George Floyd and more with people being inside for months. Some of it was people very much being upset and angry about this man losing his life. And I think some of it was, like, “Hey, we’ve been in the house for three months,” you know? Again, it feels crazy to say, but that’s just the experience that I felt.

Has anything you’ve seen or heard about in Oakland in recent days felt especially inspiring, life-giving or meaningful to you?

The inspiration that has come through what happened is in the resilience of the small businesses. People may not know this, but the person running Tribune Tavern right now is a young Black person, the chef over there. He had his windows busted out, with the “Black-owned” sign in the window — large, huge, and the windows were still broken out. He had the window fixed and replaced his “Black-owned” sign again and kept it moving. Or the folks at Queen Hippie Gypsy who said yes, we had our windows broken, however, we want to give out sage and crystals. We are gonna hand out free products to people who need healing.

The folks over at SoMar painted a mural of George Floyd over their front doors that is going to stand, likely, until they re-open.

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Whose voices do you hope will be amplified and heard in Oakland at this time?

In general, people should just try to listen to the Black voices that are around them every day. I personally have been super intentional over the past 10 years, and stepping back from positions of opining about certain things when it’s not my place to do so. In terms of, say, women’s rights, I really had to say like, ok, let me ask a woman or have a woman lead the conversation. The people who are in your immediate community, ask them how they feel. It’s really easy to ask someone for their opinion and form your position based on that person and their level of comfortability around something.

Where do you hope Oakland goes from here? What would meaningful, lasting action look like to you—and how can the people of Oakland work together to get there?

I would say, after this weekend, that if you want to be part of creating change, reach out to people who have been doing it in the community for a long time. Folks like Cat Brooks at the APTP. Or, Elena Serrano at Eastside Arts Alliance. Or, East Oakland Youth Development Center. There are ways to both speak truth to power as well as connect with people who are doing active work every single day to create the change that we want to see. More folks should make demands of the City Council, the Mayor, and should reach out and try to figure out what the local police commission is doing. These things all matter in how folks are treated.