At 4 PM on Monday, June 1, approximately 15,000 East Bay students and residents (as estimated by the Oakland Police Department) gathered in front of Oakland Technical High School to show their solidarity and support for George Floyd, a Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25. Protestors wearing face masks and other protective gear rallied against institutionalized racism and the brutality of police towards Black Americans, bearing signs such as “justice for black lives” and “white silence is white violence” as they marched two miles towards the Oakland City Hall, ultimately arriving at Frank Ogawa Plaza.
This protest was one of hundreds of Black Lives Matter demonstrations that broke out in cities across the United States in response to acts of police brutality, sparked most recently by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin and three other Minneapolis police officers. The #BlackLivesMatter movement was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer in 2012. The organization has been at the forefront of organizing protests and social media campaigns to fight against systemic racism.
Anger increased when footage from the protests revealed police firing rounds of tear gas into peaceful crowds, driving SUVs into throngs of protestors, and beating people with batons even when they were already down on the ground. As police clashed with peaceful protestors nearby, President Donald Trump called to activate the military against civilians, sparking further outrage across the country.
Raquel Matthews, a Berkeley High School (BHS) sophomore, voiced the deep injustice that she felt as a woman of color. “We are sick and tired of this. Institutionalized racism and police brutality have been going on for so long. It’s so exhausting to fight for our rights and lives but you still have to do it. There’s no reason to be silent unless you disagree with what we’re fighting for — there’s no excuse to not take action,” Matthews said at the protest.
The march was organized by Xavier Brown, a freshman at UCLA, and Akil Riley, a freshman at Howard University. They began planning during the week before, with the goal of standing in solidarity with George Floyd and his community. “We want to give our community a voice, and show that they are not alone; that together we stand strong,” said Brown. While several protests this week have turned violent, Brown emphasized that this march was to remain nonviolent. “We want to disrupt the peace with our words, not our hands,” said Brown.
Word of the protest spread through flyers on social media. Support grew quickly — within days, Brown and Riley were contacted by organizations offering their help. It was evident that their message had resonated across a wide audience. “We want to show how corrupt every police system is and show that the Black community will not be silenced,” Brown said.
Brown was struck by the power of people uniting behind a common cause and what protesting could accomplish. The message he wanted to communicate was one of solidarity, change through protest, and using power to speak out: “We want to show people that organizing and protesting is how we evoke change and revolution. We want to show that anyone can organize and that the youth have power so we should use it,” Brown said.
BHS junior Daisy Okazaki, who attended the protest, said, “I feel like it’s important to do as much as we can to speak out during this time. When people are dying, it feels wrong to just stay home.” She described the protest as being “powerful … there was a lot of passion and anger, as there should be, but it was still peaceful.”
Speakers rallied the crowd from Oakland Technical High School’s front steps before the march began. One speaker said, “The system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect.” While another called for action, saying: “You have to change the system through revolution. You have to change the system by any means necessary, and that is what we are doing today.”
Volunteers stationed along the route handed out snacks, water, gloves, tear gas solution, and face masks. Further, a group of protestors wearing reflective yellow vests were designated to be aware and look out for any suspicious or potentially violent activities. Okazaki highlighted the significant amount of support shown amongst protestors.
The march ended around 6:30 PM as thousands of protestors stood in the street and in the plaza listening to speakers, one stating, “We have reached our boiling point, America”.
Many protestors dispersed as it neared 8:00 PM in response to the Curfew Order issued by the Alameda County Sheriff, beginning the night of June 1 from 8:00 PM until 5:00 AM. However, multiple protestors posted videos on Twitter of police throwing tear gas, alleging that it happened 15 minutes before the 8:00 PM curfew. In an email sent out at 3:25 AM on June 2, the Oakland Police Department reported that they arrested 100 people on Monday night, 80 of whom were for curfew violations and 20 for “other related crimes where several guns were recovered” as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Many BHS students chose to stay home in light of the health risks presented by such a large gathering due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. BHS sophomore Lindsey Chou did not attend the Oakland Tech protest because she has at-risk grandparents who she sees frequently, and her parents instructed her to stay home in order to stay safe. However, Chou has been taking various actions to educate herself and spread awareness via social media. “During the time that the march was happening my mom and I sat down and spent an hour reading articles and finding good places to donate to, and I’m starting to watch documentaries and series to further educate myself,” Chou said.
For students that are choosing not to take any form of action online nor attending protests, Chou said, “I think so many people have the privilege to be able to not care about what’s been going on because it doesn’t directly affect them, so they don’t see why it’s so important to use their privilege to be vocal and make change. I know people have their reasons, but I feel that this issue is rooted in the country’s history of oppression and racism and to distance yourself from the fight is ignorant.”