OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Protest organizers vowed Thursday to keep marching in the streets and occupying a plaza outside Oakland, California’s main government building until their demands for police reform are met.
Speaking through a megaphone to hundreds of demonstrators, most of them donning nose-and-mouth coverings to prevent Covid-19 infection, Hoku Jeffrey encouraged the crowd to continue showing up for peaceful demonstrations on a nightly basis.
“By marching, we let them know that there is a force that says human lives should be prioritized over profit,” he said.
Jeffrey is a national organizer for the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, known as BAMN for short.
He and his colleagues led hundreds of demonstrators on a 2-mile walk Thursday through downtown Oakland. It was the first night on which protesters could assemble and air their grievances as late as they desired after Alameda County lifted an 8 p.m. curfew imposed three days earlier.
The crowd walked up Telegraph Avenue past the historic Fox Theatre and down Grand Avenue and Market Street through the predominantly African American and low-income neighborhood of West Oakland. They shouted “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice. No Peace. No Racist Police.”
At one point, a tense standoff developed between the protesters and a group of state troopers blocking access to a highway overpass that connects West Oakland to the city’s downtown. Protesters got within a few feet of the officers, some yelling in the face of troopers who donned body armor and helmets with face shields.
The protesters shouted, “Stand with us,” “Let us pass,” and “Take off your riot gear. We don’t see a riot here.”
One officer explained that police were trying to prevent demonstrators from accessing a highway ramp that might enable them to shut down the highway as has been done at protests in the past.
After about 15 minutes, officers cleared a path and let the demonstrators walk back to City Hall where they continued to vent their frustrations about institutional racism and what they perceive as unfair and broken systems of law enforcement and criminal justice.
Speaking through a megaphone, Feven Zewdi, a 34-year-old black woman from Santa Rosa, told the mostly white audience that many of them are too silent, some afraid to denounce racist policing on social media. Not being overtly racist does not make you a model citizen, she said.
“Shake it up. Make a change,” she cried.
Zewdi said the movement can’t wait until tomorrow, not when her brother or someone else’s sister or nephew can be killed by police because of the color of their skin.
Jeffrey read a list of demands that protesters had voted to adopt earlier in the evening. The demands included jailing Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25. The protesters also demanded that three other officers involved in Floyd’s death be jailed as well.
Additionally, they called for an end to “racist coverups by district attorneys and grand juries.” They further demanded that government leaders and law enforcement officials recognize that “a badge is not a license to kill.”
Jeffrey asked demonstrators to keep showing up outside Oakland City Hall at 6 p.m. every night until their demands are met.
He especially encouraged protesters to show up on Monday, June 8, for a “National Day of Action.” That is also the day that Chauvin is scheduled to make his initial appearance in Hennepin County Court in Minnesota.