New Oakland police policy draws protests

‘You can’t push us off the streets,’ protest organizer says of policy that does just that

OAKLAND, Calif. — Police made arrests as demonstrators marched in downtown Oakland to protest against the city’s new get-tough policy for monitoring street protests — the second protest in as many days.

Officers watched closely Sunday night as the protesters marched several blocks starting at Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Spokeswoman Johnna A. Watson said about 100-150 marched before organizers ended the event, and then a group of 15-20 started another protest.

Four people were arrested and another 19 received citations.

A night earlier dozens of protesters were arrested or cited for ignoring police orders to disband their protest.

The Oakland Tribune reported Sunday that police cited a new policy by the city’s mayor to force protesters from the street to the sidewalk after Oakland experienced several violent demonstrations in the past year. Oakland has hosted rallies in the streets for years, but the mayor said the new policy is needed to combat damage to property and violence.

Mayor Libby Schaaf said earlier that existing policies and laws allows police to clear streets of protesters. Many businesses along the city’s automobile sales district were badly damaged by protesters who broke away from the main demonstration on May 1. Businesses also sustained heavy damage during protests arising from the deaths of unarmed black men in police custody in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere over the last two years.

Tensions rose anew in Oakland on Thursday when protesters marched in honour of black women killed by police across the nation. But organizers said they were surprised when police pushed them off the streets and onto the sidewalks, citing the mayor’s new policy. No one was arrested Thursday.

Organizers then called for another protest Saturday to demonstrate against the new policy.

“You can’t run roughshod over people because they’re protesting your oppression,” said Cat Brooks, an organizer of both protests. “You can’t push us off the streets.”

Further protests over the new policy are planned, Brooks said.

Rachel Lederman, a lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild who helped Oakland craft its crowd-control policies, said the new tactics appear to violate the guidelines.

“It doesn’t make any sense because saying that marches have to be on the sidewalk has absolutely no relationship to impending property damage that might occur,” Lederman said. “Obviously that would happen on a sidewalk, not a street.”

The mayor didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.