Bearing a banner declaring “Black and Breathing,” protesters surrounded and temporarily blockaded the Oakland Police Department headquarters on Monday morning while shutting down a nearby freeway entrance to demand “an immediate end to the war on Black people.”
“We fight for justice for every single Black life that has passed at the hands of police, but we must also stand up and shut down for the Black and breathing who are at risk of the same fate,” said Deirdre Smith, one of the coordinators of the action, which was organized under the leadership of all-black organizations the BlackOut Collective, #BlackBrunch and #BlackLivesMatter.
Chaining themselves together, demonstrators blocked four sets of doors to the Oakland Police Department while approximately 30 black protesters held the space in front of the station. Meanwhile, others shut down a major intersection leading to a freeway close by, causing significant traffic disruption.
At one point, a demonstrator scaled a pole to replace an OPD flag with one memorializing Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Alex Nieto, Renisha McBride, and Michael Brown—all people of color, almost all of them black, killed by police or vigilante violence. A group of people locked together at the base of the pole to prevent the alternate flag from being taken down.
At the time of publication, organizers announced that they had reached their goal of maintaining the blockade for 4 hours and 28 minutes. “The 4 hours honor the memory of Michael Brown, whose body lay in the streets of Ferguson for more than 4 hours after he was killed by a police officer,” explains a joint statement. “The 28 minutes highlight the startling fact that every 28 hours a Black person is killed by police, security or vigilantes in this country.”
Protesters say that now is the moment to take a stand against this deadly status quo.
“This action is part of a larger, sustained effort to disrupt business as usual in the tradition of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Woolworth counter sit-ins,” said Jeralynn Blueford, the mother of Alan Blueford who was killed by an Oakland police officer in 2012.
“We didn’t get an equal seat on the bus or at the lunch counter because we said ‘please,'” Blueford continued. “We got our seats because of our highly organized and effectively sustained protests and boycotts, disrupting business as usual. We hold this space today as a demonstration of Black peoples’ right to exist and to thrive, just like anyone else.”
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Common Dreams spoke over the phone with Alex Tom, a protester with the Asian solidarity group #Asians4BlackLives, which, along with the white ally group Bay Area Solidarity Action Team, played a key role in organizing Monday’s action, taking leadership from black organizations. “This was a really important action because it was bringing all communities together to show that fighting for Black lives should not just be the job of Black people,” Tom declared. “It is important for us as Asians to put our bodies on the line and shut down institutions like the OPD that perpetrate the war on Black people.”
Felicia Gustin of the Bay Area Solidarity Action Team told Common Dreams, “We are part of a national movement to say Black lives matter. As white activists, we want to stress that white silence means violence. We as white people have to join with black communities to end violence against Black communities in this country, making sure to do that under their leadership with accountability to them.”
At least 27 people were arrested at the action, and participants are urging support for those detained.
Monday’s protest comes on the heels of massive demonstrations in New York City, Washington, D.C., and across the country over the weekend amid a groundswell of anger and mobilization in response to institutionalized racism in the U.S. and police killings of unarmed black people and other communities of color—including in Oakland.
According to data obtained by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, the Oakland Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and BART police have killed at least 78 people since 1970. Of those 74 percent were black and 99 percent were people of color.
The organizers of Monday’s action have been in close touch with protesters across the country, including in New York and Ferguson, and have explicitly endorsed a series of demands which emerged from the organization Ferguson Action, including: “an end to all forms of discrimination and the full recognition of our human rights” and “an immediate end to police brutality and the murder of black, brown and all oppressed people.”
“There is a war on Black people in America and police are the militarized force leading it,” said Wazi Maret David, an Oakland resident and violence prevention educator. “We are here today to bring our demands to OPD’s front door, to stake claim on their space, and to bring an end to state-sanctioned violence against all Black people.”
A video of the action is available below.
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