Oakland police deploy tear gas, arrest 100 people following youth march

Police in Oakland arrested at least 100 people on Monday evening during what was the first night of the city's new curfew, imposed reluctantly by the mayor after small groups of vandals have been marring peaceful protests throughout the region.

But about 15 or 20 minutes before the 8 p.m. curfew took hold,  police used tear gas to break up the crowd that they say refused to leave the downtown area near City Hall between 8th and14th streets and Broadway.

Oakland Mayor Schaaf said she doesn't take the use of tear gas lightly and told the public they could complain to the Community Police Review Agency if they believed their rights were violated. 

In a Tuesday news conference, Deputy Chief Leronne Armstrong said that officers feared for their safety because there were those in the crowd preparing Molotov cocktails and others had thrown bottles and rocks. He also said his own daughter attended the march. 

The department declared the gathering of about 1,000 people an unlawful assembly before the curfew formally took hold, and deployed tear gas at 7:40 p.m. A department spokeswoman said several dozen protesters refused to leave and they issued multiple warnings.

Officer Johnna Watson also said that the youth march, where an estimated 15,000 people had come out, was essentially over. 

In all, 80 people were arrested overnight for curfew violations and other offenses, according to Watson. Twenty more were arrested for other crimes and several guns were recovered, she said. 

But witnesses who were there said that not all the youth or community members had left the downtown area when the gas was deployed. Journalists were also there at that time, documenting the scene.

A young man holds his fist up to the sky at an Oakland Tech rally to mourn the death of George Floyd. June 1, 2020

Oakland Tech senior Samuel Getachew, who is the city's youth poet laureate, was there.

He tweeted that OPD "teargassed peaceful protesters well before curfew today. What are you going to do about it Libby?" referring to Schaaf, who was hesitant to impose a curfew because of the oppressive symbolism it carries.

Getachew, who is going to Yale University in the fall, described what happened from his point of view. While some of the people in the crowd stayed at Frank Ogawa Plaza, others, like himself, went to chant about a block away from Oakland police headquarters, where a barricade was set up.

At some point, an "unintelligible" message was blasted by police, Getachew said. He only heard "disperse" and "20 minutes." 

At this point, Getachew said, the crowd was yelling loudly at the police, but he didn't see anyone throwing anything. "There was absolutely no threat," he said. 

Twenty minutes before the curfew was to take place, Getachew said tear gas canisters were thrown, and he got hit. A friend had given him some anti-tear gas solution made with baking soda, and he was able to recover quickly. His mom was waiting for him in a car nearby and he was able to safely get home. 

The tear gas marred what had been a largely positive and peaceful rally, organized by youth, and which began at 4 p.m. outside of Oakland Tech High School. 

The crowd was there to mourn the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who was killed in Minneapolis on Memorial Day when a white police officer subdued him by placing his knee on his neck. 

An hour later, thousands of people, young and old alike, started walking and chanting downtown. The mood at the scene was a mixture of anguish, anger, pain and also positivity. No police attended the rally and a few officers on motorcycles escorted the crowd downtown as they marched and chanted "No Justice, No Peace." 

The organizers at the rally, who held a strong anti-police sentiment, also warned the crowd to stay peaceful and non-violent. Volunteers in yellow vests were there to spot instigators and ask them to leave. Organizers also made sure all the protesters wore masks and asked them to social distance from each other. 

They played music and read poems. One woman lit sage.

"Most of us here are young and hungry for change," said 19-year-old Josiah Jacobs. "We want it now." 

Yvonne Smith, 81, showed up with her two granddaughters, ages 16 and 12. It was not her first police brutality protest.

"I've been to too many," she said.