Late Saturday, Berkeley authorities used tear gas on protesters in an effort to break up an evening-long protest over the killings of unarmed black men around the country by police. After four hours of marching and chanting, 400 demonstrators came toe-to-toe with hundreds of police officers from Berkeley and neighboring jurisdictions at Telegraph Avenue and Durant Street.
Reportedly, police issued a warning to protesters. When the crowd ignored the warnings, police shot tear gas canisters into the crowd sending people running in panic and pain. Five adults and one minor were arrested on undisclosed charges according to Berkeley Police Spokeswoman, Officer Jennifer Coats. Two other officers and a technician were also injured.
Protesters allegedly vandalized police cruisers and threw numerous objects at police including pipes, bottles, bricks, and rocks. Smoke grenades and tear gas deployed by police were thrown back at officers. One officer had a dislocated shoulder after being struck by a sandbag.
Protesters on the other hand allege that they were victims of excessive force. Reportedly, more than demonstrators were gassed. Concert-goers in a nearby parking garage were engulfed in the cloud of tear gas. Many went scrambling to nearby elevators.
Concert-goer Elaine Dunlap, 74, just left the Paul Dresher concert at the Zellerback Playhouse when she was overcome by the tear gas. Dunlap and her husband Greg had tears flowing down their faces. She believed that the protesters had the right to demonstrate for such a big issue and felt that the gas was not necessary.
Shortly after the first dispersal, the crowd, now joined by hundreds of UC Berkeley students already out, regrouped on Durant and Channing Way. The group sat in front of police chanting “peaceful protest.” Another clash soon followed. Police told the demonstrators that it was an unlawful assembly as authorities tried to direct the mob south. At 1 am, another volley of tear gas was deployed at protesters.
Coordinators of the march planned for a peaceful march, but shattered glass was everywhere and bottles of wine were smashed at Trader Joe’s near Martin Luther King and University Ave. Looters donning masks ransacked a Radio Shack. Vandals also broke windows at a nearby Wells Fargo Bank.
They Bay Area Rapid Transit bus station was closed down by the disturbances. The North Berkeley bus station closed one hour later.
The protest began at 5 pm at UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza . Shortly after, the group was joined by masked individuals reportedly looking for trouble according to onlookers. They marched up to Berkeley police station and had a skirmish with police trying to keep protesters from going down University Ave toward Interstate 80. As they approached the highway, a line of officers were waiting blocking access to the on-ramp.
According to the Oakland Tribune, officers fired rubber bullets at protesters and utilized flares and smoke during the night-long unrest. Tear gas was used on the Berkeley protesters as well as unconfirmed reports of sound cannons.
Demonstrations have been taking place in the Bay Area after a grand jury failed to bring back an indictment in unarmed black teen Michael Brown’s case and ten days later, Eric Garner. Protesters disrupted traffic, vandalized businesses, and staged die-ins.
Berkeley’s demonstration came on the heels of another demonstration in San Francisco earlier that day. Upwards of 100 people rallied on Market Street in front of the Westfield San Francisco Centre, interrupting the hustle and bustle of holiday shoppers. Police detained more than a dozen demonstrators holding signs in the middle of Market Street stopping traffic. Onlookers and fellow protesters booed and yelled “Shame” at police.
President Barack Obama pleaded for calm heads to prevail as race protests around the country grew increasingly violent. Obama warned that solving the deep racial issues would take time.
Demonstrations were expected to continue Sunday in Berkeley as well as in Chicago, Miami, Washington, and New York where protests remained mostly peaceful. Cans of tear gas littered the streets Sunday morning as Berkeley police prepped for another round of unrest from protesters.
By Stevenson Benoit
Photo by Michael Moore – Flickr License