Downtown Oakland was on high alert Saturday night following a protest that drew thousands of people in a show of solidarity against racial injustice and in support of protesters in Portland, Ore.
While most of the crowd remained non-destructive, a fire was set at the Alameda County Superior Courthouse and police station windows were smashed hours after protesters had peacefully marched from Frank H. Ogawa Plaza along Broadway.
“Agitators within the crowd of demonstrators have set the Alameda County Superior Courthouse on fire. Please avoid the area. We are calling for peace and to have safe spaces and safe places for tonight’s demonstration. #WallofMoms,” the Oakland police tweeted around 10:30 p.m. A video shot by a journalist for the Associated Press showed a fire in the courthouse lobby.
In another tweet, police said that some people used “fireworks and dangerous projectiles” to “assault officers.” Police also said that some windows on one of their buildings were shattered, and messages were spray painted on the walls. Reports and photos from the scene showed protesters projecting images like “defund police” onto the building, and using graffiti as well as flares and fireworks.
“Breaking windows, spray painting, shooting fireworks and pointing lasers at officers and helicopters,” Oakland police said on Twitter. “We ask for organizers to keep the protest peaceful. #WallofMoms”
It is unclear why the department specifically referenced “Wall of Moms,” a movement that is spreading from Portland — where the group is resisting heavy-handed federal tactics — to other parts of the nation, including the Bay Area. A flier for Saturday’s protest does not state the organizers.
Earlier in the evening, a string of speakers at the Frank H. Ogawa Plaza had addressed systemic racism, police misconduct and other issues related to injustice.
Marchers then proceeded down Franklin Street, past murals of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both killed by police, and down Broadway to the Oakland police headquarters and back. Some repeated the name of Sean Monterrosa, the young man killed by Vallejo police in June.
Most people in the diverse crowd were wearing masks, from bandannas to full respirators.
Similar demonstrations reportedly unfolded across the country Saturday. Thousands took to the streets in Seattle — where federal law enforcement agents are also on standby — in a protest that police later declared a riot, according to the Seattle Times. In the Bay Area, a protest was planned in Palo Alto.
The Trump administration recently threatened to send federal law enforcement agents to Oakland to respond to the ongoing protest movement, as they have already done in Portland. The threat from the president has drawn sharp rebukes from city and state leaders, as well as local residents.
“When we see our citizens being brutalized by the tactics the president is using, that’s the line, we can’t allow that,” said Xochitl Martinez, 64, a Vietnam war vet who attended Saturday’s protest. “I can’t ignore my oath and turn my head. … That oath never expires.”
“To have that type of free speech responded to with literal force by the federal government is something that’s really being downplayed by a lot of news sources,” said Amelia Clute, who spoke Saturday afternoon before the protest started. “We can’t lose track of how serious and grave of a situation that could turn into: The beginnings of true fascism.”
The protests in Portland, which have lasted roughly 60 days, began after police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis. They have mostly been peaceful, according to local news reports, though a small number of people have damaged property.
Trump sent federal law enforcement officers to Portland in early July, saying the months-long protests had gotten out of control and the city had failed to respond. “Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators,” he tweeted this week.
Some state and local officials have asked that federal officers leave Portland, saying they’ve only increased tension and caused damage to the city. A U.S. Marshal shot a protester in the head July 11 with impact munition, fracturing his skull, and there have been reports of at least one protester being detained by an unmarked vehicle without probable cause.
Crowd sizes at nightly protests in Portland have reportedly grown since federal forces were sent in. Activists and politicians said a similar trend would unfold in Oakland — or elsewhere in California — if Trump were to follow through with his threat to deploy agents.
“We are not experiencing any civil unrest right now, but I can think of nothing more likely to incite it than the presence of Trump-ordered military troops into Oakland,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a July 20 social media posting.
Chronicle staff writer Lauren Hernández contributed to this report.
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