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Oakland community responds to Ferguson verdict in protest

Mills students rallying at the Oakland protest on Monday, November 24, the night of the Grand Jury's decision to not indict Darren Wilson.
Mills students rallying at the Oakland protest on Monday, November 24, the night of the Grand Jury’s decision to not indict Darren Wilson. (Fatima Sugapong)

As an immediate response to the Ferguson decision, protesters gathered in downtown Oakland in an effort to protest in solidarity with the Ferguson community. These protests took over the Interstate 580 and Interstate 880 freeways and continued downtown with marches and rallying at Eighth Street and Broadway. Many in the Mills community were also outraged by the decision, prompting them to participate in the protests.

After eight hours of deliberation, the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri announced on Monday, Nov. 23 that the shooter of Black teen Michael Brown, Officer Darren Wilson, would not be indicted, releasing him from any serious charges.

The verdict caused an uproar in the Oakland community, as many Oakland residents feel that this is yet another instance where Black bodies are devalued, according to protesters.

Protests lasted from Monday, Nov. 24 and still are occurring. On Friday, Nov. 29 protesters took over the West Oakland Bart station for three hours. Mills Junior, Joyelle Baker, spearheaded a protest on Richard’s Road on Monday, Dec. 1, which was a part of a larger, nationwide protest. Protests continued into the week of Dec. 1 after the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the New York police officer responsible for the homicide of Eric Garner. 

According to Oakland organizers Angie Sophrosyne, Benjamin Lynch, Ronald Cruz and Yvette Falarca, immediate action is necessary. They created an event page on Facebook right after the news came out about the lack of indictment, reaching out to thousands of Oakland residents.

“The racist murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri has produced the only response that could ever hope to break the otherwise endless cycle of injustice: mass resistance,”  organizers posted on the event page.

The Oakland Police Department surrounded protesters on Eighth Street and Broadway, moving in closer the longer protesters refused to disperse. There were fires set ablaze in the middle of the street with wood gathered from boards covering various businesses along Broadway, looters breaking into Starbucks and Metro PCS. Stolen goods were thrown at the police, causing them to move in closer. Many peaceful protesters in attendance chastised those who were looting.

OPD Officer Mitchell warned protesters that he and the other officers would take action if protesters refused to leave. He referred to Penal Code Section 409, which states that protesters are guilty of a misdemeanor if they fail to disperse from any riot or unlawful assembly after being asked to do so by police.

Protesters continued to stand their ground, holding up signs that said, “End Police Brutality” and “Stop Killing Our Black Kids!” They also chanted things such as “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” in unison with their hands up, paying homage to the death of Michael Brown.

The OPD fired rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets, hitting some Mills students directly. The hundreds of protesters ran from Eighth Street down to 19th Street. According to witnesses on the front lines of the protests, police were grabbing people by the back of their necks, pushing them down, beating them, then arresting them for charges such as “standing in public” or “standing on the corner.”

Mills students Joyelle Baker, Rachel Patterson, Arianna Cruz-Sellu, Cheryl Reed and Mills Alumna Charlette Viney gathered together and started chanting lyrics from Kanye West’s song “All Falls Down”: “F— the police that’s how I treat ’em. We buy our way outta jail, but we can’t buy freedom!”

“I feel like the police are surrounding us to box us in and kill us,” Reed said.

Protests began to lull on the night of the decision around 1 a.m. after police presence increased and more arrests were made. Six Mills students were arrested.

The Ferguson decision has strongly affected the Mills community, resulting in the institution reaching out to its students.

President DeCoudreaux sent out an email to the Mills community on Monday, Nov. 24 with a tip sheet from Mayor Jean Quan about where to find healing centers and how the OPD is advised to handle the protests. On Wednesday, Nov. 26, DeCoudreaux sent out a second email discussing her sentiments on the decision.

“Our hearts go out to Michael Brown’s family and to every family touched by violence,” DeCoudreaux said in the email. “Such violence affects all members of these communities and families throughout the country.”

The Associated Students of Mills College (ASMC) also promptly responded to the Ferguson verdict on Monday, Nov. 24 in an email. They offered healing spaces and opportunities to take action.

“As the governing body of the undergraduate students of Mills College, we take a firm public position in dissent of the decision. The decision to not indict perpetuates the historical, cultural and racial genocide of Black people in the United States and globally,” ASMC said in the email. “The failure to indict demonstrates the way the judicial system repeatedly fails to equitably protect and value the lives of Black people. In taking this position, we wish to consider ways in which our community can heal and take action.”

On Tuesday, Nov. 24, the Social Justice Resource Center (SJRC) held two healing circles: a Black Healing Circle and an Allies Healing Circle in the Solidarity Lounge at lunch time. The Mills community was invited to express their sentiments on the injustices continuously being inflicted on people of color.