A week of rising unrest across the country burned through Oakland and San Jose on Friday night as thousands of demonstrators rallied against police brutality in heated demonstrations that began peacefully, then spiraled into chaos, with crowds setting fires, smashing windows and looting stores, and heavily armed law enforcement confronting protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades.
In Friday’s most severe violence, a gunman opened fire on two federally contracted security officers in downtown Oakland, killing one and critically wounding the other in an act federal authorities described as “domestic terrorism.” But while the federal complex was one of dozens of buildings damaged during the protest, it remained unclear Saturday whether the shooting had any link to the demonstration that was raging just steps away over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
And in San Jose, two people were injured when an SUV plowed into a group of protesters outside city hall. A Santa Clara County Sheriff’s deputy fired at the SUV as it fled, police said, and authorities arrested the alleged driver on suspicion of attempted murder Saturday.
Riot gear-clad law enforcement in both cities made dozens of arrests and drew further scrutiny from critics — and defenses from police leaders — for their tactics.
By Saturday, cleaning crews, business owners and broom-wielding volunteers were cleaning graffiti and sweeping broken glass from the sidewalks.
Hundreds more people gathered to continue the protests in San Francisco and in cities across the country, with more marches planned for the Bay Area in the coming days.
The clashes between police and protesters were the most chaotic San Jose has seen in decades, according to the city’s police chief. In Oakland, they harkened back to the violent confrontations of the Occupy era in 2011, and were a clear parallel to the unrest that followed the police killing of Oscar Grant in 2009.
“I feel like they don’t listen to us when we’re quiet, so when we get rowdy they really want to start listening,” said 18-year-old Terri’nae Williams, who stood on Broadway in downtown Oakland late Friday night after crowds had dispersed.
The demonstrations were part of a national wave of grief and anger over the police killing of George Floyd, a black man who died on Memorial Day in Minneapolis after an officer knelt with his knee pressed onto Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes during an arrest that was captured in a now-viral video. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter Friday, but that has done little to quell the anger Floyd’s killing sparked over generations of complaints about police brutality from people of color.
San Jose’s protest began early Friday afternoon, with hundreds of demonstrators from across the Bay Area gathering outside city hall and stopping traffic in both directions on Highway 101 and on city streets to show their solidarity with Floyd.
Police said they decided to disperse the demonstration after protesters took over the freeway, and after some vandalized police cars and civilian vehicles and businesses.
“We went into this allowing them to be peaceful. Then they started going on the highway, and then they vandalized and spray-painted our patrol cars,” San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia said Saturday. “This wasn’t a peaceful protest any longer.”
Lines of police shouted at the crowd to move back as authorities tried to separate protesters into two groups near city hall. Officers jabbed protesters with batons as they advance and quickly escalated to their tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades; 38 people were arrested at the protest.
Protesters in San Jose hurled bottles and other objects at the officers. In a moment captured on cell phone video, an officer was punched in the face and knocked unconscious, according to police, after the officer snatched a cell phone from the man’s hand and tossed it aside.
Many protesters, however, said the escalation felt needlessly driven by law enforcement. Videos circulated online of San Jose officers yelling militaristic chants as they formed skirmish lines, and in one a San Jose officer getting into formation could be heard shouting, “Let’s get these motherf—ers!”
“I’ve never been to anything where this has happened before,” 22-year-old activist James Manke said about the police reaction. “It was shocking.”
Garcia and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said officials will undertake a broader review of the protest and the police response.
“We’re going to have a very public discussion and review the tactics that were used,” Liccardo said. “For those upset because of a video clip they saw, and have questions, that’s why we have investigations and that’s what I expect in the weeks ahead.”
Garcia defended his officers’ actions. One officer was treated at a hospital for his injuries, according to police, and others suffered minor injuries.
“When chaos like that occurs, it’s not a dance,” Garcia said Saturday. “If force has to be used to maintain peace, that’s what we have to weigh.”
Police in Oakland used similar tactics later Friday night.
Oakland’s demonstration began with thousands gathering at Frank Ogawa Plaza and protesting outside of the police department’s headquarters.
“I feel like everyone is coming out here to seize the moment because this is crazy,” said Zakiya Thomas an 18-year-old protester. “The police have too much power.”
The protest billed as the Minneapolis Solidarity Demonstration began to escalate around 9 p.m., when police officers lined up to block Oakland Police Headquarters from demonstrators and began spraying tear gas while protesters set off fireworks and hurled bottles.
As protesters began choking from the tear gas, police officers continued to use flash grenades to disperse the crowd. Some in the crowd began covering nearby buildings in graffiti and smashing windows.
The shooting of the two security officers happened as demonstrations raged around 9:45 p.m., at the intersection of 12th and Jefferson streets near a guard shelter at the federal building.
Oakland police, who are investigating the shooting along with the FBI, initially said Friday night that it appeared to be “unrelated” to the protest, but added on Saturday that they are not ruling out the possibility of a connection. While Department of Homeland Security officials described the killing as an act of domestic terrorism, they have not said what they believe motivated the attack. Authorities have not identified any suspects in the shooting.
Oakland police said 40 people were detained and 17 arrested Friday night. Twenty-four police officers and two firefighters were injured, police said, though it was not clear what kind of injuries they sustained.
Corporate offices, financial institutions and chain businesses appeared to suffer the worst damage Friday night.
The Chase Bank at Broadway and 14th Street was one of several buildings with boarded up windows, but the boards were ripped off and glass was shattered. Dozens of people later smashed windows, sparked a small fire and looted the Walgreens across the street.
Inside a Mercedes-Benz dealership on 29th and Broadway, several cars had been smashed and graffitied, and one appeared to have been set on fire. On the front door of a Wells Fargo branch where several windows were smashed, someone had spray-painted “This is what you get.”
But seemingly indiscriminate destruction appeared to radiate through the city’s downtown core.
Vandals ransacked small locally owned businesses, including a hair salon, jewelry stores and other shops in Oakland’s Chinatown. Windows were broken out along several blocks of 14th Street leading toward Lake Merritt, damaging a day care center, a restaurant and a doughnut shop, among other businesses.
“I think we all know that black lives are greater than some broken glass,” said Donna Pastena, who along with her husband Chris runs Tribune Tavern, where a large window was smashed Friday night. “I think that we can be angry to our core about the death of Mr Floyd, and about the injustice that black people suffer every day, and also be incredibly angry about the destruction of our businesses.”
As crews loaded the charred remnants of dumpsters, construction equipment and other debris into garbage trucks Saturday morning, 50-year-old Reggie Broussard was among several protesters who had returned to downtown Oakland to join in the clean-up. Broussard said he took part in the early hours of the demonstration but left as it escalated, and he wanted to do his part as he helped sweep up debris in Oakland’s City Center plaza.
“The outrage is going to get a lot of attention,” Broussard said. “Good or bad, the attention is needed.”
Staff writers George Kelly, David DeBolt and Harry Harris contributed reporting.
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Author: Nico Savidge, Robert Salonga, Fiona Kelliher, Annie Sciacca, Leonardo Castañeda