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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | U.S. | Global Justice and Anti-Capitalism | Government & Elections | Police State and Prisons
Fuck Trump: Oakland Police Lose Control of the Streets on Day One (photos)
Thousands turned out in Oakland on November 9 to protest the election of Donald Trump. Police gathered in the hundreds and even called in mutual aid from neighboring departments. But their presence was not enough to rein in the masses of outraged anti-Trump demonstrators, especially after OPD seriously escalated the situation by prematurely declaring an illegal assembly and attacking the crowd with tear gas and flash bang grenades. In no time, what was once a single unified march spread across downtown, primarily in two main groups, but also smaller groups of a couple of dozen or less. Fires were set, windows were broken, and the town was plastered with anti-Trump graffiti everywhere. Police were powerless to stop it. All it takes is a few thousand demonstrators to call the cops' bluff.
(By 6pm, the crowd was packed into the corner of Oscar Grant plaza, filled 14th Street. and began to flow into the intersection at Broadway.)
The first anti-Trump protests began in the early morning hours, shortly after election results were announced. In Berkeley and Oakland, hundreds of protesters marched through the streets, spray painting anti-Trump graffiti and lighting garbage fires. Similar spontaneous protests sprang up in Seattle, Portland, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and other cities.
Later on November 9, a rally was called for 5pm at Oscar Grant plaza. When the time came, protesters poured into the area, still stunned and processing the idea that the next president of the United States will be a narcissistic demagogue who admits to sexually assaulting women, called for the deportation of millions of immigrants, and proposed a ban on Muslims entering the country. Trump's entire campaign played on themes of white supremacism and nativism, and he won the election by dominating the white vote, primarily white men. People are pissed, and people of color especially are worried about what is to come.
Other protests and actions were called for San Francisco, San José, and cities across the nation.
In Oakland, the number present quickly swelled to perhaps three thousand or more (others have pegged the number closer to seven thousand). After speakers expressed their outrage, scoring the election as yet the latest offense in America's long racist history — and declaring their intent to resist any and all Trump initiatives — protesters moved into the street en masse and headed north on Broadway.
The march was alive and vibrant, revelling in its open defiance of the coming Trump presidency. It was one of the largest marches in Oakland in some time. The same flatbed truck which elevated speakers at the plaza led the march throughout downtown. Chants of "Fuck Trump" and "Not My President" rang out, as well as singing, "Which side are you on, my people? Which side are you on? The freedom side!"
This reporter only witnessed a couple of relatively minor incidents of vandalism throughout the march, that is until it reached Washington and 8th Streets. That's where police formed a line to prevent the march from proceeding, as they often do when marches head toward their headquarters, even though the building is essentially a concrete fortress and there's not much protesters can do to damage it.
Occasionally, marches have forced their way through police lines surrounding the building and marched right past it, or held impromptu rallies at the front doors. A few times, police have willingly stepped aside and allowed marchers to proceed through their sacred zone.
Protesters yelled at police to allow them through, but the cops weren't having it. Behind the line on Washington, were motorcycles and dozens of backup officers. Behind the line, cops were pacing around with "less than lethal" crowd control weapons.
In under five minutes, with no shoving at the line between protesters and police, no bottles thrown or other assaults on police sensibilities, other than the mere presence of a large march, OPD backed up their sound system SUV down the street and declared the march was an illegal assembly. The SUV was nearly a block away and over the crowd noise, it was barely audible, but from the front of the march it could be heard enough to know what it was.
The crowd grew restless. Four brown trash cans were rolled to within a few feet in front of the police line on the sidewalk. A minute or two later, someone set fire to the garbage inside of one of the cans. Almost immediately — rather than attempt an individual arrest — the first flash bang grenade of several was thrown toward the crowd.
A puff of tear gas filled the air after the flash bang exploded. Most people scattered in panic, not even aware of why police might have attacked the crowd so suddenly and without warning. Perhaps only a third of the original crowd remained in the vicinity of Washington Street after the initial flash bang. The rest headed deeper back into downtown towards City Hall.
From that point on, it was over for police control of the situation. Flares and bottles were heaved at police. Garbage fires were set all over. Tear gas intermittently permeated the air as protesters were assaulted with further rounds of CS flash bangs. OPD may have protected their headquarters from the march, but they unleashed thousands of angry demonstrators throughout the city.
On Washington Street, over the next half hour or so, police slowly pushed their line forward, until remaining protesters in the area had rounded 10th, and were back on Broadway.
Separately, others from the original march were already protesting throughout downtown. Groups from several hundred to a couple of dozen to small handfuls engaged in games of cat and mouse with police throughout the night. Police would form lines, move in, sometimes scatter protesters, only to find them reconverged several blocks away.
One thought that came to mind that night was the quote from Mao about revolutionaries swimming amongst the fish of the general population. Not that the quote is entirely apt here, but in the days of old, during the early days of the Justice for Oscar Grant movement, for instance, downtown Oakland was a ghost town at night and it was much easier for police to identify and smash on small groups of protesters.
Now, however, since downtown is filled with expensive bars for the tens of thousands of gentrifiers who have moved to the city, with drunken foot traffic all over late into the night, police have to step, and drive, a good bit more carefully, lest they injure or offend the wealthier newcomers.
It was a wild night. I spoke with Davey D for Hard Knock Radio segment as police munitions were heard exploding in the distance, circumstances unknown. The photographs below capture only a portion of what went down the first night after the election. The action was far too widespread for any single person to document. For instance, the Federal building had a door smashed and a fire set on its threshold, City Hall was damaged, an incendiary device appears to have been thrown into a storefront, and an OPD patrol vehicle was torched.
Police cordoned off a half block in every direction from where the police SUV was set aflame. On a night where they pretty much lost control of the entire city, police were able to effectively protect their headquarters and prevent any photographs from being made of the burned out vehicle.
Eventually, protests petered out of their own accord as more and more demonstrators left the scene. A NLG legal observer reported six known arrests as the night was winding down, although the final tally was likely higher and others may be arrested in the coming days as police review relevant surveillance footage. Still, it was a far smaller number than had been arrested in other cities, with the total being in the hundreds across the entire country.
All it takes is a few thousand protesters to call the bluff of the police. Politicians and police will say the day after an event like this that they lost control because they didn't anticipate the large number of demonstrators. They are loathe to admit the truth to the public.. There is little to nothing they can do. Police can only operate with the consent of those around them. In response to overwhelming numbers, police have the option of conducting unconstitutional mass arrests or illegally escalating their own violence in the hopes of intimidating protesters into submission. Short of that, Oaklanders with strong enough numbers will protest when they want, where they want, and how they want, no permits sought or required.
Huge crowd comes out to protest next US president. Quite a thing to hear thousands chant in unison, "Fuck Trump!"
Presumably to prevent damage to vehicles as has occurred during past protests.
Remember seeing paving stones removed from Oscar Grant plaza during Occupy Oakland.
Old Sears building is currently being remodeled and will be Uber's Oakland headquarters.