Protests taking place throughout the nation, in the wake of the police killings of unarmed civilians Michael Brown and Eric Garner, descended into violence on Sunday as hundreds of rowdy demonstrators in California and along the west coast clashed with police and torched police cruisers, looted local businesses and shut down part of a major highway in the latest chapter of the ongoing demonstrations. Protesters in Berkeley also clashed with police, hurling rocks, bottles and a reported “explosive object” at officers, who responded with batons and barrages of tear gas canisters in one of the most violent demonstrations to rock the west coast, on Sunday.
The violent west coast chapter of the protests began when around 500 protesters gathered at Berkeley to stage a massive demonstration in solidarity with protests which have raged nonstop in other cities around the country since last Wednesday, when a grand jury of Staten Island decided against indicting Daniel Pantaleo, an NYPD officer, in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed nonviolent father of six. Protesters chanted slogans including Garner’s now famous last words “I can’t breathe,” which have spread like wildfire across the country to become an iconic rallying cry among protests nationwide. While the Berkeley demonstration was initially peaceful, the situation quickly descended into chaos as protesters decided to march from campus to Oakland, briefly shutting down the eastbound lanes of Highway 25 and engaging in clashes with riot armor clad police, during which protesters hurled bottles, rocks, pieces of concrete and a reported “explosive device” at police, who responded with a barrage of batons and tear gas canisters. One officer reported suffering minor injuries, and several demonstrators were arrested throughout the demonstration.
The violent protests began on Berkeley campus around 5 pm, where school Chancellor Nicholas Dirks pleaded with demonstrators to keep the peace around campus moments before demonstrators departed on their crusade toward Oakland. Dirks stated that he was holding out hope that the outrage expressed during the evening’s protest would be focused into more positive and productive outlets in the days and weeks to come, however the atmosphere of nonviolent civil disobedience dissipated shortly after the protesters left the campus when an unnamed individual shattered the storefront window of a Radio Shack, causing the previously peaceful demonstration to erupt into a maelstrom of chaos. According to Berkeley Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Coasts, one protester who attempted to prevent others from looting the store was struck in the head with a hammer, though Coasts stated that the injury was nonlethal.
Following the Radio Shack incident, hundreds of rowdy protesters roamed the streets of downtown Berkeley where they flipped and torched trashcans, smashed windows and looted several businesses, with damage being reported as far away as City Hall. KCBS reporter Mark Seelig stated that the situation on the ground resembled a “mob scene” and described how employees at a local Trader Joe’s had barricaded themselves inside in an attempt to avoid the violence. The initial protest group split into smaller factions when the violence began, with nonviolent demonstrators distancing themselves from their chaotic peers. “I didn’t sign up for this,” commented an unnamed protester.
By around 9 pm on the west coast, only handful of several dozen defiant protesters remained in the streets, accompanied by a fleet of police cruisers, motorcycles and armored personnel vehicles. When the smoke finally cleared after a day of protests and violent clashes between dissidents and police, all along the west coast, authorities reported several arrests that were made and a significant amount of damage to private property which included five torched police cruisers and several ransacked local businesses, although luckily there were no serious injuries to mention. “Peace is the message,” Eric Garner’s mother said responding to protesters in California and throughout the nation, stating, “we don’t need any violence.”
By: Charles Stephen Craun
Photo courtesy of Scottlum-Flickr License
Photo courtesy of The All-Nite Images-Flickr License