News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

June 02, 2020

Organic rage: Night one of the George Floyd protests in Oakland

By Shane Ruiz

On the night of May 29, thousands of Oaklanders assembled in Oscar Grant Plaza to protest the murder of George Floyd at the hands Minneapolis Police. The demonstration was totally spontaneous, not organized by any formal group. The spark which lit the flame was a simple online posting that was then circulated widely around social media. But that spark seems to have struck a barrel of timber. 

Protesters initially met at Oscar Grant Plaza where a self-selected group splintered and marched down to the Oakland Police Department station on 7th and Broadway. The police were prepared and had set up barricades and lined up shield-to-shield behind them.

Protesters at the frontlines agitated and taunted the police, and some even lit fireworks. Police warned, through an Orewellian loudspeaker announcement, that OPD was there to “protect the peaceful expression of speech,” but that they would retaliate for any “unlawful action.” Some activists tried to rile the hundreds in the crowd to puncture through the police, but it was clear to most protesters that there was no way past the militarized line. Plus, the majority of protesters were not at the frontline at all, but were taking more of a wait-and-see approach in the back. It was clear most of this crew wasn’t ready to get mowed down by the police. 

The spontaneity of the event allowed for the organic expression of righteous anger, but also organizational drawbacks, including a lack of enforcement of social distancing or face coverings. Unlike at the student-led protests on June 1, there was no clear route for a march, no speakers to make demands, and no common direction for the protesters. After the initial encounter at the police station, some protesters returned to Oscar Grant Plaza and some tried to blockade the interstate. Police were prepared at the freeway exits.

However, the lack of organization did reveal a chink in the OPD’s defenses. Police seemed prepared only to confront protesters at the police station and at the interstate. They were ill-equipped to stop what came next — a degeneration of the big group into small groups who engaged in looting and general vandalism. 

Break-ins have been reported all over downtown including Target on 27th, the Starbucks on 7th, a fire set at the Walgreens on 14th, and, most joyously, a break-out at this Honda dealership. Looting and vandalism were widespread, and contrary to some reports, very racially diverse. This was not a case of white people going out ahead of black leaders or protesters. There were no leaders and the black protesters seemed just as ready to smash windows as white people. 

The one characteristic that most of these protesters did seem to share was age. We were overwhelmingly young people. Angry young people. People who won’t stand for a society where people can be murdered on the street with impunity. People who are willing to fight. And that gives me hope.