Thousands take to the streets of Berkeley in peaceful demonstrations against police killings of Black Americans

There were at least five separate rallies Saturday in Berkeley, coming in the wake of a few last week. More are slated to happen over the next few days.

Protests in Berkeley on June 6 called out injustice, police killings of Black Americans, white supremacy and intolerance. Photo: Ted Friedman

Thousands of people flooded the streets, parks and intersections of Berkeley Saturday to call out against injustice, police killings of Black Americans, white supremacy and intolerance.

There were at least five separate demonstrations during the day. A group made protest signs and held them up in the Enterprise Rent-A-Car lot at Shattuck and Ashby avenues in an event hosted by the nearby Rogue Mark Studio. Thousands of people, young and old, who crowded the streets of South Berkeley before they set out on a New Orleans-inspired, music-filled funeral procession from Malcolm X Elementary School to Civic Center Park. This March to Bury Racism demonstration was by far the largest to have taken place in Berkeley to date. Observers estimated the crowd at 3,000-4,000.

Most people participating in the protests wore masks in keeping with COVID-19-related guidelines, although large crowds made social distancing challenging.

At some points, the various Berkeley protests that took place on Saturday ran into each other and blended into one.

Hundreds came to a rally and sit-in that kicked off at 1 p.m. at Civic Center Park organized by a group of Berkeley High School students. After those who gathered listened to speeches and poems, they walked en masse across the street to hold a peaceful sit-in in front of the Berkeley police station. The group, which spread out all the way to Old City Hall, were silent for nine minutes to mark the amount of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Protesters then chanted “Say Their Name,” and yelled out the names of many Black people killed by police, including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Kayla Moore, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown.

Berkeley High students were also behind one of the first Black Lives Matters demonstrations held in Berkeley, on May 28, during this unprecedented moment of  nationwide uprisings for civil rights.

The UC Berkeley Black Student Union held a rally Saturday afternoon at Grove Park in South Berkeley, after which those that participated marched up to the Berkeley police station.

Matt brought his 9-year-old daughter, Christina, to the rally that started at Malcolm X Elementary School. She had never attended a rally before, although her older sister, now 14, had.

“We want to support justice, civil rights, human rights and people’s rights,” said Matt, who did not provide his last name.

Family-friendly rallies, including some organized specifically for children, seemed to characterize the Berkeley response to the killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. On Friday afternoon, a Kids March for Black Lives protest saw dozens of very young children, accompanied by parents and guardians, hold a protest on the I-80 University Avenue pedestrian overpass. It prompted many people in cars driving under the bridge to honk their horns in solidarity.

More anti-racism protests are scheduled for Sunday and Monday in the city, including some orchestrated by school communities. See Berkeleyside’s “live” list (and let us know if you know of more that should be added).

Update, June 7: On Sunday, Berkeley Police Chief Andrew Greenwood said police were around on Saturday but that he had decided not to place them “directly at the events, but rather to monitor from a distance.” The department had communicated with the organizers of most of the marches and expected to them to be peaceful. Berkeley police helped with crowd control and worked as safety escorts for the marchers, said Greenwood.

“We are sensitive to the intense feelings of people in our community regarding the police killings of people of color,” Greenwood said in an email. “We are sensitive to the issues around race, just policing and the racial disparities throughout institutions beyond law enforcement. We chose to not place our folks directly at the events, but rather to monitor from a distance. In the context of yesterday’s demonstrations, police presence can be perceived as chilling, as threatening, and in any case, place our people unnecessarily into a position of conflict. There was no reason to take that risk.”

“Yet, had there been a threat to the safety of our community members, we were fully prepared to act,” he continued. “We had open lines of communication with most organizers, the ability to watch from a distance, and contingency plans and personnel prepared to respond if needed.”

Maude Puddicombe and Kalea Braide take part in a Kids March for Black Lives on June 5 that started on the I-80 pedestrian overpass in Berkeley. Photo: Daniela Picariello
Kids March for Black Lives protest on June 5 on the I-80 pedestrian overpass in Berkeley. Photo: Pete Rosos
Kids March for Black Lives protest on June 5 on the I-80 pedestrian overpass in Berkeley. Photo: Pete Rosos
Kids March for Black Lives protest on June 5 on the I-80 pedestrian overpass in Berkeley. Photo: Pete Rosos
Participants at the sit-in at the Berkeley police station, listen as various protesters speak their mind. June 6, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos
A large crowd gathers for a sit-in in front of the Berkeley police station headquarters on MLK. June 6, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos
A large crowd gathers for a sit-in in front of the Berkeley Police station headquarters on MLK Jr. Way on June 6. Photo: Pete Rosos
A sign maker stencils in the likeness of George Floyd onto a piece of cardboard with spray paint at a free sign-making event hosted by Rogue Mark Studios in South Berkeley,  June, 6. Photo: Pete Rosos
A volunteer stands handing out free BLM signs on Ashby Avenue on June 6, where Rogue Mark Studios had taken over a closed down rent-a-car lot. Photo: Pete Rosos
The marching band for the March to Bury Racism heads up Russell Street passing Grove Park. June 6, 2020 Photo: Pete Rosos
The March to Bury Racism crosses Ashby Avenue. June 6, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos
The March to Bury Racism leaves Malcolm X Elementary School and crosses Ashby Ave. June 6, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos
A dancer named Dada leads a marching band in a New Orleans style funeral procession on a March to Bury Racism. June 6, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos
A local resident holds up a sign stating “No Justice, No Peace” on the front porch of her home across the street from Malcolm X Elementary School during the March to Bury Racism. June 6, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos
A large crowd gathers in front of Malcolm X Elementary School for the March to Bury Racism. June 6. Photo: Pete Rosos
Marchers walking down Ashby head to the March to Bury Racism. June 6. Photo: Pete Rosos
“Say their names” on June 6, 2020 march. Photo: Shira Bezalel
Marcher at June 6, 2020 protest. Photo: Shira Bezalel
March to Civic Center Park on June 6, 2020. Photo: Shira Bezalel
June 6, 2020 rally at Civic Center Park Photo: Shira Bezalel
City Councilmember Cheryl Davila at the George Floyd protests in Berkeley on June 6. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín at the Black Lives Matter protests on June 6. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Councilmember Ben Bartlett addresses protesters at the Black Lives Matter protests on June 6 in Berkeley. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
“New Orleans-style” march to Civic Center Park on June 6. Photo: Ted Friedman
Thousands joined in on a “New Orleans-style” march to Civic Center Park. Photo: Ted Friedman
Ayanna “Mama” Davis addressing the ancestors. Photo: Ted Friedman
A family watches as people march for racial justice. Photo: Ted Friedman
Berkeley High students kneeled for nine minutes of silence outside the Berkeley Police Department on June 6. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Sign held by people gathered for the New Orleans-style funeral procession from Malcolm X Elementary School to Civic Center Park. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Five protesters hold serial signs at New Orleans-style funeral procession from Malcolm X Elementary School to Civic Center Park. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Three protesters hold signs at New Orleans-style funeral procession from Malcolm X Elementary School to Civic Center Park. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Huge crowds gathered at Prince Street and Ellis Street in South Berkeley before march to Civic Center Park. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Family holds sign at New Orleans-style funeral procession from Malcolm X Elementary School to Civic Center Park. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
A few hundred people gathered outside Old City Hall and the Berkeley Police Department on June 6, 2020. There was a nine-minute-long silent remembrance of George Floyd. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Civic Center Rally from stage. Photo: Natalie Bettendorf
Health Care for Black Lives Matter/White Coats for Black Lives rally near Berkeley Way. Photo: Natalie Bettendorf
Band arriving at Civic Center Park. Photo: Natalie Bettendorf
Coffin at Civic Center Park with Mayor Jesse Arreguín. Photo: Natalie Bettendorf
Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Berkeleyside. Email: frances@berkeleyside.com.