OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Hundreds of protesters marched through East Oakland Monday calling for racial justice and demanding answers about the fatal police shooting of a 23-year-old man in their neighborhood two days earlier.
Erik Salgado was killed in a hail of bullets that California Highway Patrol officers fired at his car on the 9600 block of Cherry Street at around 10:45 p.m. Saturday. The gunfire also injured Salgado’s pregnant girlfriend, who was in the passenger seat. The shooting occurred one block from Elmhurst Middle School, where Salgado was once a student and where a protest was held Monday evening.
“Why do they keep killing our people,” cried Denise Friday Hall, speaking to a crowd outside the school.
Hall’s son, Colby Friday, was shot and killed by a police officer in Stockton, California, in August 2016. Friday’s handgun was found 10 yards from his body but his family claims in a civil rights lawsuit that Friday was unarmed when he was shot. The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office declined to press charges against the officer who shot Hall’s son.
“They’re the killers,” Hall said of the police.
Like Salgado, Selena Avalos also grew up in East Oakland and attended Elmhurst Middle School. After imploring a crowd of protesters to teach their children love instead of hate, the 22-year-old mother lamented the strained relationship between her community and police.
“Even if you call for help, they treat you like you committed a crime,” Avalos said of local law enforcement.
She recalled when she suffered from a mental breakdown when she was 11 years old and her mother called the police for help. Avalos said the police violently dragged her into a patrol car and locked her inside for two hours while waiting for her to “calm down.” She never got to speak to a mental health professional and never received any resources to help her cope with the problems that triggered the breakdown, she said.
That’s one reason why she supports the push to divert funding away from police departments and invest in community resources, such as mental health services.
“We keep giving money for more weapons,” she said. “I’m 22, and I still can’t afford therapy.”
Avalos also condemned the police for using tear gas at a protest one week ago. Avalos brought her 2-year-old daughter to a protest in which thousands of people marched down Broadway in downtown on June 1. Twenty minutes before a county-imposed curfew was scheduled to start that night, Oakland police hurled tear gas at protestors outside the police station at 7:40 p.m. Avalos said she was simply waiting for the bus but had to run away clutching her young daughter in her arms to avoid the irritant fumes.
She won’t bring her daughter to another protest, she said, even though she believes everyone should feel safe to attend a peaceful demonstration.
Isha Clarke, a 17-year-old recent graduate of Met West High School in West Oakland also attended the protest Monday and helped organize an “open mic” event where people were invited to vent to the crowd about their anger and frustration over continuing racial injustice.
Clarke believes policing is an institution that grew out of white supremacy and continues to perpetuate that ideology. She noted that the first police forces in colonial America were created to help catch runaway slaves.
She believes the billions of dollars that go into police department budgets each year should instead go toward providing mental health services and protecting the environment.
She challenged the notion that law enforcement is necessary to ensure public safety.
“Anyone who thinks we need police to protect us has never experienced the fear of seeing a police officer and thinking you might lose your life in that moment,” she said.
Clarke is hopeful that the recent wave of protests sparked by the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 will bring about true and lasting reform in the United States.
“If we don’t believe we can make change, then it won’t happen,” Clarke said.
As for the shooting death of Salgado in East Oakland Saturday, the California Highway Patrol did not return phone calls seeking details or comment on the incident.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the shooting is being investigated by the Highway Patrol, Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and Oakland Police Department. She said the city is “committed to conducting a rigorous and transparent investigation” into the shooting.