Voices from Oakland’s 15,000-strong youth march against racist police violence

A sea of young people – estimated to be 15,000 people – gathers in front of Oakland Tech High School on June 1, 2020

 

By Danielle Kaye (@danielledkaye), with additional reporting by Ariel Boone (@arielboone).

An estimated 15,000 people — many of them young, first-time protesters — marched through downtown Oakland Monday afternoon in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the family of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020, and Breonna Taylor, a black woman killed by police in Louisville on March 13. As protests erupt across the nation, this one was unique — it was organized and led by students, and it was likely the biggest protest in the Bay Area in recent days.

“It’s really empowering, and it shows how many people care — including young people.” – Alia, 12

“In this past week, in the pandemic, with all this stuff happening in the Black community, it really just awoke me to come out here and fight for our rights, because honestly, this is so wrong and we just need a change,” said Taylor, one of the protesters. She’s a high school senior. Taylor told KPFA this was the first protest she’s ever attended.

Twelve-year-old Alia was also out on the streets. This was the second protest she’s participated in this week.

“It’s really empowering, and it shows how many people care — including young people,” Alia said. 

The George Floyd Solidarity March drew in a young crowd — and was also organized by young people. Organizer Akil Riley, a student at Howard University who is now home in Oakland, was among the speakers that addressed the seemingly never-ending sea of masked protesters gathered in front of Oakland Technical High School. 

“Why would a system of government work to combat crime? They work to make money,” Akil said in a speech to protesters. “If America was really against crime, they’d give people access to health care and housing and education. They wouldn’t give us police if they really cared.”

The march was so big it spanned several city blocks. The marchers were predominantly school age, carrying signs that said “White Silence Equals Violence,” “No Lives Matter Until Black Lives Matter,” and “End Police Brutality”. These students have been out of school since school districts, including Oakland Unified, cancelled in-person classes due to COVID-19 in March. They protested with the support of their teachers and parents. 

“If America was really against crime, they’d give people access to health care and housing and education. They wouldn’t give us police if they really cared.” – Akil Riley, 19

“I’m an educator, and it means everything to me to see children,” said Gabriella, another protester. “I’m out here alone and scared, and I’m a big germaphobe. It’s just so important to be out here in community.”

Hundreds of adults lined the sides of Broadway, cheering on the students. Medical workers stood in front of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, fists raised in solidarity with the protesters, who returned the support with cheers and applause. 

A similar scene unravelled at the First Presbyterian Church, where church leaders rang bells in support of the protesters. Akil said this is the sense of solidarity he hoped for when organizing the march.

“I wanted to stand in solidarity with them, to say that we stand with you,” Akil said. “We feel your pain, Minneapolis. It’s happened to us before.”

Akil’s grandfather, Walter Riley — a civil rights attorney and longtime activist — attended the march to support his grandson’s actions.

“I’m just excited that he’s able to rise up as a young person and bring out a lot of folks that haven’t been coming to these protests before,” Walter said. “Young people need to say — and I support them saying — to the older generation: you haven’t done enough.”

At 7 p.m., organizers finished delivering speeches at Oscar Grant Plaza in downtown Oakland and advised protesters to get home safely before a county-wide curfew went into effect at 8 p.m.. Some remained downtown and marched to Oakland Police Department headquarters. Twenty-one minutes before the curfew, law enforcement began shooting tear gas and flash bang grenades at the young demonstrators. Many fled in fear on foot, on bicycle, on skates or in cars.

 

Law enforcement advanced on protesters again shortly after 8PM. A police helicopter circled the downtown Oakland area, announcing to everyone on the ground that they must get indoors or would be arrested. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office later tweeted that over 100 people had been arrested, many for curfew violations.

This story first aired on UpFront on June 2, 2020.

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