Alamedans protest police killings
Alamedans protest police killings
Dozens of Alamedans took to the streets Sunday to protest police killings of unarmed black men in New York and Ferguson, Mo. and to express their frustration about the lack of charges against the officers responsible for the killings.
The Alameda protest rally was held a day after hundreds of thousands of people participated in protests across the country following the decisions of a pair of grand juries not to hand down charges in the police killings of 18-year-old Michael Brown, of Ferguson, and 34-year-old Eric Garner, of New York. Additional protests have taken place at City Hall and at Encinal High School.
Chanting “Black lives matter! All lives matter!” and waving signs, the mostly white group – which included clergy and churchgoers, parents and their small children –marched from City Hall to Park Street and back during the hour-long rally.
Michelle Blair said she organized the rally to raise awareness in her own community and show solidarity for others who are protesting the killings and calling for change. A flyer she distributed to advertise the rally called for a peaceful demonstration “In memory of the black men’s lives that have been lost, (i)n recognition of the nation's grief, (i)n hopes for a safer world” and “(i)n solidarity.”
“I don’t want to yell at the man or anything. I just wanted to acknowledge that something was wrong,” Blair said Sunday. “I can put out my energy and my intention and say, ‘Let’s change this.’”
John Ota, who carried a cardboard sign that said “Life, Liberty and Justice for All,” said he also joined the rally to raise awareness.
“It’s important,” Ota said. “Too may black men getting killed, black men and black children. It’s got to stop.”
He said there is a national movement to make independent, rather than local, prosecutors responsible for seeking charges against police who kill civilians. Other proposals to address such killings include body cameras for police officers and federal intervention in cases where police kill civilians.
Cheryl Woltjen said she attended Sunday’s rally to support an end to police brutality. She said she thinks better communication is needed between police and young people and that more programs should be available to help young people learn how to talk to police.
Protesters in Oakland and Berkeley have clashed with police in recent weeks, but Sunday’s event in Alameda was conducted, Blair said, with the support of the local force. A pair of officers watched the event unfold from an upper level of the Civic Center parking garage, a bystander told The Alamedan.
Blair checked in with Alameda police ahead of Sunday’s protest, she wrote in a message on a neighborhood Nextdoor web page, and she said police would be present at the event, “keeping their distance, but keeping the peace, keeping their eye on us, in a protective way.”
Participants in Sunday’s event stood in crosswalks waving signs at drivers as they waited at lights on and around Park Street, then cleared off to the sidewalks when the lights changed so that traffic could pass.
Participants in Saturday’s protest in Oakland briefly blocked traffic through the Webster and Posey tubes, while protesters in San Francisco reportedly blocked the Embarcadero and snarled traffic elsewhere in the city.
Drivers and pedestrians on Park Street cheered the protesters, honking horns and offering thumbs-up signs. One woman raised her fist in tribute as the group marched from Santa Clara Avenue on to Park Street.
“I think it’s awesome,” Najawa Harris said as the group passed. “It really makes me happy as an African American woman to see all races being cognitive of what’s going on and being willing to stand up for what’s right and what’s wrong. Whenever I see (people of) other races standing against injustice it makes me happy.”
But Sé Sullivan questioned whether the group’s message was on target. Sullivan, who argued loudly with some of the participants in Sunday’s rally, said the goal of the Black Lives Matter movement – founded after a Florida jury voted not to convict George Zimmerman for the killing of teen Trayvon Martin – is to focus the conversation on ending racism against black people and to affirm their contributions to society.
“It’s about systematic, institutional racism that devalues black life,” said Sullivan, who is white and who has been protesting with another group around Alameda, said of the Black Lives Matter movement. “When we say all lives matter, we’re re-centering it on whiteness.”
Sullivan said that group is planning another protest on Saturday, while Blair gathered signatures at the end of her event to contact participants about others that may be planned.
“I’m under the impression we’re a gentle, peace-loving community,” she said when asked why she chose to stage an event in Alameda instead of attending bigger rallies elsewhere. “All towns should be in solidarity.”