I didn't attend the march on the evening of December 7th, 2014, but from what I saw of it, it involved a great deal more destruction, unlike the first night. Of course, the new reports of both nights were the same. The first night, even though only a couple of windows were broken by fewer than ten people, that was all the news reports wanted to focus on so the protests could be easily discounted and lose the respect and support of the general public. The second night saw a much greater amount of destruction in Downtown Berkeley on Shattuck Avenue. This destruction was undoubtedly perpetrated by the same white anarchists as the first night, but there's another key group that may well have been present to instigate and participate in the destruction: the police. Does that sound like a conspiracy theory? Yes. Is it? No.
Yes. Undercover police, wearing face masks much like some of the people that did damage the previous night are inside the protests, with some reporting that those officers were witnessed banging on windows attempting to draw people into breaking them. Also interesting to note that on the first night the protesters on Telegraph were met with extreme force when they were just standing around chanting. Why is it that on the second night, the police did not meet the group actually committing illegal acts on Shattuck by breaking into businesses and stealing with the same amount of force?
Shut it Down for Michael Brown
That aside, I'm going to move on to the protest that took place on December 8th. It began in the same place at the same time as the two previous nights. This time, I noticed a different atmosphere. A few of the things I could place my finger on was that there were fewer white people with megaphones stealing attention, there was more audible discomfort when people starting saying things like "All Lives Matter", and on the only occasion I heard that said, people quickly shut it down. Beyond that, protesters were more prepared for potential vandalism. There were protesters keeping an eye out for anything, and I witnessed one man pick up a brick and then a couple went up to him and told him that it's not worth it and tried to get him to throw it away. I saw images from the previous night in which protesters linked arms in front of businesses to protect the windows, and people were prepared to do more of that on this night. It was also a much larger and more diverse crowd.
The route was much the same that night as it was on the first night. A winding route from Sproul Plaza on campus down to Shattuck, then to the police station, then heading down University. At the police station, the police played the same game, and just waited it out until some of the crowd got antsy and decided to keep moving while others stayed at the station -- an effective strategy for thinning out the numbers in the main group. However, on that night it didn't seem to have a visible impact. In fact, it actually felt like by the time we reached University, the crowd had grown even larger. I can't say how many exactly and I don't particularly care to throw out a random guess, but the number was significant. At that point, it was pretty clear people were heading for the freeway, again, like the first night. At no point on Telegraph was there any trouble. No broken windows, no vandalism, no trash cans in the street, no attempts to form barricades. Total peace.
I want to touch on the above photo for just a second. First of all, it made me think a little about this. When I saw these people who had come outside from their dinner to show their support for the protesters and what they were marching for, I felt an odd sense of hopefulness. That's not to say the fact that people have been going out all over the world to protest what's happening doesn't give me hope, but there was something about this moment that inspired that feeling. I know I said in the previous post that white people shouldn't be posing with their hands up as a show of solidarity, but it didn't bother me to see these people doing it. I think I was happy to see these people whose dinner had just been interrupted come outside and show that they too care. They too believe black lives matter. They too are fed up with police violence. White, moderate, middle class Americans are one of the major groups that need to be convinced of this, and even though people in Berkeley aren't necessarily as representative of that demographic, I was still glad to see these people showing support.
To the Freeway
The group was stopped there for a short while at the intersection in front of the bridge. There was some indecision on where to go at that point. A very small group of 15-20 claimed they had found a way onto the freeway so I followed them. I heard from the main group that a fair number had broken off and were heading North. The small group I followed briefly made the freeway but CHP quickly arrived and blocked access. By then, there was a small trickle of protesters from the main group moving to the pedestrian bridge. I think some people were catching onto the idea of moving over the pedestrian bridge and accessing the freeway from the other side, but police quickly moved to block that entrance as well, and sent some officers to attempt to block the pedestrian bridge. They were, however, blocked by protesters as pictured below.
Eventually the officers on the bikes turned around and left, and I moved back down under the pedestrian bridge to a path running parallel to the freeway where protesters began bringing down a chain link fence and getting onto the freeway. This was short lived and CHP got them off very quickly. At this point, it seemed to become a sort of cat and mouse game of protesters moving down, testing the fence, and seeing if police would get there. People kept moving down, but the number of people there wasn't great enough to make it a challenge for people to be removed from the freeway. There was one point at which a decent number of people made it on and stopped traffic for about ten minutes, but they were pushed off quickly enough, pictured below. In that same picture, you can see I'm positioned on the wall. I guess an officer behind me was telling me to get off the wall, but I couldn't really see him, hear him, or realize he was talking to me, but at some point he decided to just push me off the wall which was about a three foot fall onto a chain link fence. I was uninjured, but it was rather unpleasant and drew anger from protesters that witnessed the action.
I confronted the officer about him shoving me off a wall, and he said he did it because he was telling me to get off the freeway and I wasn't getting off, but again, I never heard him because he was talking to my back. And even if I had actually been on the freeway at the time, and he was talking to my face and I still wasn't getting off, he could have gently grabbed my arm and helped me down or something. I'll get back on track. At this point, I walked back to the bridge to assess the situation when I saw a very sizable group of protesters moving in from University. It's a little hard to see in the picture above, but there's a significant number of people marching in from the group that was on University. With these new numbers, the group became more confident and people began running south on the path to reach a point that was unguarded by CHP which was already spread thin. The fence was brought down and hundreds of people began to flood onto the freeway, stopping North and Southbound traffic on I-80. One group formed a solid line on the Northbound lane, while the group on the Southbound lane began advancing Southward.
Someone brought to my attention the pretty obvious fact that police would almost certainly surround the Southbound group at some point, and that unless more people joined them, they'd probably end up being driven off or arrested. The group in the Northbound lane was set on staying and blocking traffic from advancing which was actually quite helpful because the presence of stopped vehicles in the Northbound lane meant that the police couldn't form an effective line preventing the protesters from advancing and it also meant that they couldn't fire tear gas or any other non-lethal weapons, so every time that a police blockade was formed on the Southbound lane, protesters would snake back on to the Northbound lane and weave through the vehicles. Along the way, dozens of people who were stuck in traffic gave honks of support, high-fived marchers, and cheered out of their windows. I wished several people who had exited their vehicles a nice evening and none of them seemed particularly angry.
After snaking back and forth for some time traffic in the Northbound lane began moving again, and I was informed that the line of protesters in that lane had been cleared by police and we were on our own. After marching a little further, demonstrators met a police line near the Courtyard Marriott in Emeryville. You can see in the image just how far traffic was backed up.
I'm going to step away from documentation again for a moment to take a quick look at disruption as a tactic. I found a really simple explanation of Direct Action, which I would categorize disruption as, linked to here. Take a quick look at that, and then if you'd like to read more, the Wikipedia article is here. You've probably seen in major news outlets desperate to discount these protests that a woman went into labor while stuck in traffic and required emergency assistance to get to the hospital. While I certainly don't know where she was headed, I kind of presume that she would have gone into labor while driving anyway, which may have been more dangerous than going into labor while stopped. No matter where she had been, emergency crews would have had to get to her, and I imagine they didn't have that hard of a time reaching her because protesters certainly aren't going to block fire trucks or ambulances.
End of the Line
Returning to documentation. This police line marked the end of the march toward the bridge, and if you thought any of the officers in any of my other images from these protests were well armored, you should have seen the CHP officers that arrived to back up the initial line. It looked like they were ready for war with their shields and heavy body armor. You can see in the image below one of the officers in the initial line that has a straight up assault rifle. There aren't any bean bags or foam bullets in there. He shoots you with that and you're dead. Good thing he brought it to a peaceful protest in case any of us pulled out our assault weapons. I heard reports from someone else that they had seen an officer with a similar style assault rifle, but he actually had a drum magazine, you know, the kind that can hold 100 rounds. That officer alone could have killed almost every single protester on that freeway. AND WE WERE ENTIRELY PEACEFUL. If you don't already think the police are going a little far, I hope you understand at this point. I'd like to stress that at this point in the evening, on the largest of all of the protests that had happened so far, no destruction had happened. This was a completely peaceful protest, and it was met with the potential for lethal force. Again, where were these officers when looting happened the previous night? They are not here to protect the peace. They are here to protect you from having peace.
Backup eventually arrived, and protesters were forced off the freeway down into the parking lot of the CVS in Emeryville. Some people began to disperse but suddenly a police line appeared from around a corner and immediately fired 2-4 non-lethal rounds at people trying to run away who may not have even seen the police yet. I found one of the foam rounds lying on the ground later and it looked wholly unpleasant to be hit with. The message they're trying to send? We won't tell you what is going to happen to you next, but if you try to escape, you will be shot. That sounds like hyperbole, doesn't it? Okay, maybe you think, 'oh, well being shot with non-lethal rounds doesn't count.' Great, that's fine. But when two people tried to sneak out through a hole in the fence in the back corner, an officer pulled out his sidearm, which is absolutely not loaded with non-lethal rounds. When asked why we couldn't leave, an officer responded with, 'because I told you so.' If you try to escape, you will be shot. This is not hyperbole. You can see a couple images from the inside of the kettle below.
So what happened next? Well, you've probably seen the news, and frankly, if you haven't and you've made it this far in this story, it should be fairly obvious. They arrested every single person in that kettle. There was a group of people who had parked their motorcycles in that lot just as police closed it off. One of them ended up in handcuffs before some careful talking got them all free. There may have been Ross shoppers or employees stuck in there as well. The process of arresting everybody was, and I'm not joking, one of the stupidest things I've ever personally witnessed. There were enough officers standing shoulder to shoulder to surround a group of no fewer than 150 protesters, plus dozens more officers scattered around, and they arrested those 150 people ONE. AT. A. TIME. Are you a person who is opposed to paying taxes for public services like roads, and really opposed to supporting things like Medicare? Well your taxes are going to paying something like 75 officers to stand around watching while three of them actually arrest anyone. It took about two hours for everybody to end up in cuffs. If you've been handcuffed and forced to sit on the cold, hard asphalt in those cuffs, you know how uncomfortable it is. If you haven't, I'm sure you can imagine. I got tired of being uncomfortable, so I slipped out of mine.
Next, they spent an hour loading everybody into the buses. People actually cheered when they saw the buses arrive, that's how ridiculous this situation was. Meanwhile, those 75 officers were burning your tax dollars taking selfies and chatting about the game. There was a single officer who moved around the group giving people water and attending to their medical needs. There was one woman who claimed she was suffering from toxic shock syndrome because her tampon had been in for too long. I can't speak to whether or not this was true, but my inclination was to believe her, yet despite her crying out and being visibly distressed for ten minutes, nobody attended to her. In fact, I don't recall anyone ever attending to her. Finally, it was my turn to get on the bus. Unfortunately I was stupid and didn't slip my cuffs back on when I was up, so the officer searching me took my gloves and watch off and then re-cuffed me so tightly that my wrists hurt for a day afterwards. The bus, as it turns out, was worse than the ground. There's no good way to sit in a seat with you hands cuffed behind your back, it was shockingly hot, dark, the bus felt like it lacked any suspension at all, and they played all of the worst hits of the 1970s.
We finally arrived at the prison and were loaded out of the bus, ladies first. Gee, how chivalrous of them. When I got out of the bus, I witnessed a line of men facing the wall, legs spread out. I looked to my right briefly and saw a group of scared looking people get off another bus and face a chain link fence towards me. I was told by an officer no talking, no looking away from the wall. To be honest, at that moment, the images running through my head were all those that you see in World War 2 movies. The ones where they line people up on the walls in the camps and mow them down. The first wave German Jews likely didn't expect to be killed when they were jailed, and nor did I. I'm not saying that the police are just going to start rounding up people and executing them like Nazi Germany, I'm just saying that's the imagery this situation evoked. It was rather unpleasant. I, having forgotten my ID at home, was led into the "keeper" tank. Side note: always carry your ID everywhere. Here I meet the eleven men who would be my cell mates for the next twelve hours. After giving them my name and phone number for the third or fourth time, we were led to another holding tank for our phone calls. The phone didn't seem to work, though, so I don't think anybody got a hold of anyone. We were then led down an immensely long set of corridors and courtyards to our cell. Santa Rita is quite large.
The jail cells sucked. Metal bunk beds with no mattresses, pillows, or blankets, and it was freezing cold. I normally run very warm -- I'm the kind of person who takes short walks through the snow barefoot -- and I was shivering. The bunk I stupidly picked had dried vomit or something on it. I of course could have gotten up and moved to another of the 36 bunks in there, but I didn't for whatever reason. Jail is also very boring, imaginably. It is supposed to be a punishment after all. We got to the cell around 4am, and around 7 or 7:30am, the first group was released, and we also received food. This was one of the most dehumanizing experiences I've had. They brought up crates with sealed plastic bags containing an assortment of food items. They then opened the cell door, had us all line up against the wall, and walk one by one up to one guard who'd basically throw the bag into our hands while the other guard said, 'you're welcome' like a drone, and then we went back to the cell. While she was handing us the food, she said, 'this is normally how we do feedings.' "Feeding." Like you feed an animal in a cage. The food was disgusting, as you might imagine. There was something that looked like bologna but I just threw it out and ate my stale bread with the mustard packets they gave us. The bread was still really floury inside. There was also an unripe orange, a packet of fruit punch mix that you can add to the funky water from the cell, and a bag of assorted pretzels.
After almost everyone else had been released, we were still waiting in our cell. It was around noon at this point. The guards had some people who looked like other prisoners in the jail bring in tons of mattresses, seemingly in preparation for the occupation of that wing once we left. We were then instructed to carry the mattresses up to our cell. Wow, great. Almost two hours later, we were asking about how long it would take for us to be released. The guard said he didn't know, but that we should be grateful that they brought us mattresses and blankets. Grateful. We didn't even have blankets, and they brought mattresses when we were about to be released. As we were led out of the cell to be released, I saw them bringing in blankets. From what I heard later, the women didn't receive mattresses upon arrival either, but they did get blankets, though apparently they were wet blankets. I also heard from somebody say that their guards asked them for a good Yelp review. What?
Finally, a small number of us were led back to the holding tank with the non-working phone because they were apparently still having trouble pulling up our information. I guess there are just thousands of other Kyle Camerons born on October 5th, 1992 that live in the United States. I later figured out their actual struggle. Over the course of the arrest and jailing process, I had given out my name and birth date no fewer than six times. When I was finally brought out to look over one of the forms they were using, it said my name was Kyle Camerzon, born October 5th 1982. And although I had on multiple occasions offered to give them my SSN because I don't know my driver's license number, they said that all they wanted was the DL number. Of course, when I corrected that form, the guy also asked if I knew my SSN. Five minutes later I was released.
The whole process might as well have been theatre of the absurd. It was an absolutely ridiculous joke. The level of incompetence displayed by every single person in that facility and during the arrest process was something I rarely witness in real life. They seemed like they were just having a fun time with us, alternately treating us like elementary students learning a lesson about why you don't do bad things, and treating us like actual inmates/animals (because really, they're not so different). It was just completely surreal, and I only spent 12 hours there. I can't imagine spending a week there, let alone spending years in a place like that. It's not rehabilitation, it's just dehumanizing punishment that we disproportionately hand out to people of color if they aren't executed in the street for jaywalking. I came out of jail angrier than I was when I went it. I'm even more determined to see that system dismantled and changed now. And that was 12 hours.
Black Lives Matter
I don't really know how to conclude all of this. I hope that if you've made it this far in life and in this piece and you somehow, beyond all reason, didn't see an issue with our justice system, you do now. I hope you understand a little better that these protesters are completely peaceful, and that you think that the police response to them was at least just slightly heavy-handed. If you believe that Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Trayvon Martin, and the thousands of other black men and women who have been executed on the street for crimes like shopping in a Wal-Mart, trying to enter their own homes, asking for directions, or just minding their own business while walking down a sidewalk, if you have so much as a shred of doubt as to whether or not any of them deserved to die, I hope that you're starting realize that not a single one did. Question why James Holmes, a white man wearing full body armor who massacred 12 people watching a movie in Colorado is still alive, while any of those people I just named aren't. Have you called any of those men thugs while calling James Holmes a troubled youth? Question that. Do your homework, do a lot of reading about these issues, and swallow your pride and admit it: you are wrong.
People will not stop marching.
I hope you'll start marching too.