Oakland Protesters’ Views on Police Reform Vary by Age

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Conversations with protesters at a demonstration against police brutality and racism in Oakland, California, Tuesday revealed divergent views among older and younger participants on what police reform should look like and the best strategy for achieving results.

More than 100 demonstrators lined up across 8th Street and Broadway in Oakland Tuesday night. They faced a line of police officers who maintained a one-block perimeter around the city’s police headquarters at 455 7th Street.

Rick McCracken, a 68-year-old Oakland resident, said the scene was worlds away from the chaos he witnessed at a demonstration in Oakland Friday night when people broke windows and looted stores. A security guard was also shot dead that night outside the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building in Oakland.

McCracken said he thinks peaceful protests are more effective at bringing about change.

“If people could just sit down in the streets and peacefully protest, that’s how we’ll win,” said McCracken, a white man who recalled his time protesting against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Nia, a 22-year-old black college student who declined to give her last name, argued that a more radical approach and physical action is often required to bring about change.

“Slavery got abolished with a war,” she said.

People like President Donald Trump who have criticized protesters for destroying property do not understand her pain or the fear she feels every time her younger cousin walks outside, Nia said. She worries that her cousin will be targeted by police because of his skin color.

“He can’t take our pain,” Nia said of the president. “He’s not in our shoes.”

Addressing criticism that property destruction is counterproductive to the movement, Nia insisted “it doesn’t matter” if a Target store has its windows broken because corporations are entities that “uphold oppression” in our society.

Several other young people called for defunding police departments and redirecting that money into programs aimed at addressing the root causes of crime.

Matt, a 31-year-old Oakland resident who declined to give his last name, believes billions of dollars that go toward “militarizing” police departments each year should instead go toward mental health treatment, reducing poverty and food insecurity and providing housing and education.

“We do not need to be funding the militarization of police,” Matt said. “There’s far too much of that and far too little community engagement.”

Both older and younger demonstrators shared a passionate desire to end racism in policing and hold officers accountable for excessive force, but those who have lived longer tended to be less keen on pulling funding from law enforcement.

“We need the police, but it has to be a police force that’s not biased and protects people equally,” said Maggie Lennon, 64, of Oakland.

Lennon said she was impressed by and inspired by young people who have taken to the streets to demand change after a 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, died in police custody on May 25. A video of since-fired and arrested Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes has set off a wave of protests across the nation.

“It’s wonderful to see courageous young people fighting for a cause against racism,” Lennon said. “They are so brave.”

Lennon attended the protest with Lynn Smith, a 64-year-old black man and Oakland resident who grew up in Stockton. Smith said he thinks the protests would die down if prosecutors in Minneapolis would file charges against three officers who stood by while their colleague pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

“If they would arrest those other officers, a lot of this would die down,” Smith said.

Smith said those officers should be charged with accessory to murder.

Pat Grandt, a 36-year-old Oakland resident who grew up in Chicago, said he wants to see police officers held accountable when they harm people without just cause.

“If a police officer assaults a citizen, they should be held to the same standard as citizens,” Grandt said.

Grandt rejected the opposing view of those who say added restrictions will make it harder for police officers to perform their duty and enforce the law.

“I think the police can do their jobs within the law,” he said. “They could restrain citizens without tasing them, without kneeling on their necks and without beating them.”

As an Alameda County-imposed 8 p.m. curfew approached on Tuesday night, a few dozen demonstrators continued to protest at 8th Street and Broadway, where Oakland police officers had fired tear gas and arrested about 40 protesters the previous night. 

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