At 9:00, the approach to the 580 freeway on Lakeshore seemed almost quiet at first. But on Lake Park, a street that runs parallel to 580, a large group of about 200 people seemed to appear out of nowhere carrying signs and messaging one another on their phones. A marching band style drum pounded out a rhythm as the words “hands up/don’t shoot” rolled through the group. A few smoke bombs went off by the police line on the highway, but they did little to disperse the crowd.
Most of the protesters were young, and there was an ethnic mix that seemed to echo that of Oakland’s. The crowd was civil but energetic at this point, though most of the excitement of shutting down the freeway in both directions happened earlier.
Protestor Denise M., told her experience of the evening. She and the crowd started out downtown near City Hall, and walked down Broadway to Grand. From there they decided to take on 580. She said “There was nobody who seemed to be in charge of the whole thing. We just decided to do what we did when it felt right.” The group was so large, traffic came to a complete halt in both directions. Denise said “the drivers looked at us, some pumped their fists in support of us. I really felt some solidarity” The group then worked their way down the highway and broke a small wooden access door to get back to the side streets.
Police and news helicopters circled overhead as one young man with a megaphone urged the crowd to march down to the courthouse. Some did, but many stayed. A second police line barricaded the eastbound underpass of Grand, where someone set fire to a trash can marked with “FTP”. One young woman shouted at the man starting the fire sarcastically: “sure, set fire to the streets, to all the trash, fuck the gutters, fuck the city.”
Tempers and adrenaline seemed to spike at odd moments such as these, but this is an unusual night. The protest seemed to take on a life of its own. But there was a keen awareness of why everyone was there this November night; Michael Brown’ s death, and the verdict of Darren Wilson, and the nature of justice in Ferguson, Oakland, and the United States.