Oakland Clamps Down on Street Protests

Protesters Defy Ban on Nighttime Marches

June 1, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Oakland, May 23, protesting the ban of nighttime street marches
Oakland, May 23, protesting the ban of nighttime street marches. Photo: indybay.org

Oakland, California Mayor Libby Schaaf, who came into office at the start of this year, has implemented a repressive new policy banning nighttime street marches. An Oakland police advisory says “unpermitted marches in the street after sundown are not allowed,” and demonstrators can only march on sidewalks after dark. Oakland has been a center of protest and resistance for years. The nighttime street march ban, disguised as stopping “vandalism,” is an outrageous attempt to suppress the struggle against police brutality and to criminalize protest and restrict the rights of the people more generally, at this urgent moment when there could be a “long hot summer” politically around the country.

Schaaf had campaigned for mayor in part by saying she would put an end to “violence” in Oakland street protests. In the aftermath of protests in Oakland upholding the uprising in Baltimore and supporting the movement against police murder, major mainstream media had demanded a clampdown in Oakland. Of course, Schaaf and the media were not talking about violence of the police—like the vicious attack on Occupy protesters in 2011, or the daily brutalization of Black and Latino people.

Schaaf’s new ban was first implemented on Thursday, May 21, when all around the country, #SayHerName actions took to the streets to protest police violence against Black women and transgender people. In Oakland, several hundred people gathered at 14th and Broadway near Oakland City Hall for a march, sponsored by the Anti-Police Terror Project, to the Oakland Police Department headquarters. As the sun went down, police announced that the demonstration was “unpermitted,” threatened protesters with arrest, and forced the march onto the sidewalk.

Oakland police have a long and ugly history of police brutality and murder against the people, and a history of extreme brutality against political protest as well. In the police assault on Occupy protesters mentioned above, Iraq War vet Scott Olsen was seriously injured when he was hit on the head with a police bean bag projectile, and he was later awarded a $4.5 million judgment.

Intervention by federal courts and continued protest led to a situation in which the official crowd control policy in Oakland has been that marches without permits after dark are allowed. Rachel Lederman, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild who had helped develop that policy, told the press, “A local government can impose a reasonable time, manner, and place restriction on speech, but the Oakland crowd control policy specifically states that OPD will facilitate marches in the street regardless of whether a permit has be obtained as long as it’s feasible to do so.”

Lederman said it is unconstitutional for the city to prohibit nighttime street marches: “The reasonableness is determined by what’s actually happening there. You can’t ban street marches at night because on some past occasions some people broke windows. That’s completely unconstitutional.” (“Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf Institutes Ban on Street Protests,” East Bay Express, May 22, 2015)

Schaaf’s new policies are an attack on the people’s basic rights. The National Lawyers Guild in San Francisco (NLGSF) condemned this new policy and said that they would challenge it as unconstitutional. A statement from the group said: “The NLGSF believes such preemptive restrictions on protest are both unconstitutional, and in violation of OPD’s own Crowd Control Policy... There is no legitimate justification for such a limitation, and the unlawful policy change being implemented by Mayor Libby Schaaf serves little purpose but to suppress free speech.”

A demonstration to defy the ban on nighttime protest was called on Saturday, May 23, along the same route as the #SayHerName protest. This was also the day that a judge cleared Cleveland cop Michael Brelo of all charges in the outrageous murder of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, unarmed Black people whose car was shot at 137 times by the police—and this was part of why people came out on short notice. After about 150 demonstrators marched in the streets to the police headquarters in defiance of the ban, marchers faced a line of riot-clad Oakland Police, Alameda County Sheriffs and California Highway Patrol who declared the protest illegal and threatened the protesters with arrest and the use of “chemical agents.” “Our streets, all night!” the crowd chanted in reply. After a tense confrontation, people began to sit down in the streets to challenge the legitimacy of the nighttime curfew, and people began to shout out the names of Black women and men who have been murdered by the police.

The East Bay Express reported the police used tear gas and flashbang grenades against protesters who remained in the streets. Forty-seven people were detained and cited (including members of the Revolution Club) and five others were taken into custody.

The following evening, Sunday, May 24, an interfaith grouping of religious people led a rally and march to continue drawing attention to state violence against Black women, and to challenge the arrests that had come the night before and the ongoing curfew. About 200 people took to the streets and marched after sundown. The march was again surrounded by large numbers of riot-clad police. This time, probably because of the political breadth of the religious forces who had called the march, the group was able to march to the police station, hold a speak-out, and then march back to Oscar Grant Plaza at 14th and Broadway. Back at the Plaza, organizers spoke of the significance of having been in the streets in face of the curfew and talked about how people need to continue to build this movement against police murder and in opposition to the repressive restrictions in Oakland.

While some protesters began to leave, it was clear that many still wanted to stay in the streets and continue to make their voices heard. Another march of about 100 people began. With the police continuing to surround and intimidate the march, the group wound its way around a few blocks, and ended up back at the main downtown intersection. People were herded onto the sidewalks but began marching across the streets, completely legally and even in line with the extremely repressive new Oakland rules, crossing the street only during green lights. In this context, five people were violently snatched by police and arrested, including Revolution Club members who were singled out by the police and targeted for arrest. Some were simply standing on the sidewalk when arrested. One of the Revolution Club members was charged with a completely bogus charge of resisting arrest and held on $15,000 bail.

The singling out of the Revolution Club members underscores the completely reactionary and repressive actions of the authorities in Oakland. These arrests, as well as the crude and unconstitutional implementation of the new protest policies in Oakland, are a response to the new situation emerging in Baltimore, Cleveland, and across the country. As the police continue to brutalize, incarcerate, and steal the lives of our youth and others, those who stand up against this are criminalized. It’s a crucial part of the struggle to expose this and rally people broadly throughout society to turn back this assault.

Fighting Oppression Is Not a Crime! Amnesty for All Protesters Against Police Terror!



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