A group of peaceful protesters marched from Oakland through Emeryville in the second annual “Reclaim MLK Day”. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday has traditionally been reserved as a day of public service but in wake of recent tragedies and unrest, a movement has shifted to turn the day into a day of activism and in the words of some “reclaim MLK’s radical legacy”.
Emeryville is often referred to as “the mall of the East Bay” and this label makes it a target for social justice activity including anti-capitalism and workers-rights movements. This year was supplemented by the anger over the Officer-Involved shooting of Yuvette Henderson.
A crowd that was reported to be in the thousands in Oakland was whittled down to several hundred by the time it traversed Adeline to the East Bay Bridge Shopping Center. The crowd paused in front of the Home Depot where the Yuvette Henderson incident was touched off but the store had already locked its doors in anticipation.
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Escorted by OPD, the crowd marched over the 40th/Shellmound bridge en route to Bay St.
The crowd then trekked over the 40th/Shellmound bridge, past IKEA to the shopping center arriving about 3 p.m. In anticipation of the march, EPD Officers & Mall Management accommodated protesters by blocking the main shopping artery off to traffic. Police diverted vehicle traffic away from the area at Shellmound & Christie.
Photo: Cindy Warner/Examiner.com
The protesters marched through Bay Street and then gathered at the Ohlone and Shellmound intersection, blocking Shellmound off with a flatbed truck parked perpendicular to the road. The protesters then used the truck as a stage to provide speeches & songs to the crowd of marchers and some mall patrons who joined in curiosity.
— Christine Mason (@DuongMason) January 18, 2016
Bay Street resident Christine Mason captured a bird’s-eye view of the march.
After about an hour, the truck moved on and the protest dissipated. Marchers walked, rode their bikes and jumped on the Emery Go-Round with some reportedly getting in vehicles staged in the Bay Street parking garage & IKEA. Unlike last year when some protesters entered stores and tried to disrupt the shopping activity of customers, no such activity was reported. Protesters did interrupt traffic on the I-80 Powell off-ramp which the CHP closed in response.
— ABC7 News (@abc7newsBayArea) January 19, 2016
The march may have been a well calculated diversion for what turned out to be the main event. At about 4 p.m., protesters in five vehicles were able to coordinate a slow down and vehicle blockade of the westbound section of the Bay Bridge. The group then chained themselves together through the car windows stopping traffic and backing up vehicles for miles.
The event drew a massive amount of national exposure to the cause with helicopters circling above and creating a traditional and social media frenzy. It’s not clear if inconveniencing thousands creates sympathy for the various causes. Some commuters were reportedly stuck in traffic for as long as 6 hours.
While some were clearly supportive …
— Charlie Taibi (@ChahlieTaibi) January 19, 2016
Others questioned the strategy:
— Matt Johnson (@mattjohnlas) January 19, 2016
This was of course not the first time protesters blockaded a major transportation artery to draw attention to a political cause. On Black Friday in 2014, a group of 14 protests famously shut down much of the BART system by chaining themselves to cars at the West Oakland station. BART authorities came down hard on the protesters with criminal charges and hefty fines noting that more protesters could be emboldened to block highways and rail service if left unpunished. Protests they warned could potentially result in an accident causing injury or death. Criminal charges and fines against the so-called “Black Friday 14” were eventually dropped in exchange for a “restorative justice” penalty.
Some have noted in an age of domestic terrorism, the threat that was exposed by these peaceful protests. While the motive of these activists was clearly to make a political statement, others could utilize these tactics for more nefarious reasons. The ease that they were able to accomplish this and the lack of awareness and preparedness on the part of the authorities might be a concern to some. Authorities have long warned of threats to these so-called “soft targets”.
Apparently marching on even a Public Highway is a protected right although creating a blockade appears to be a different matter. King historically staged a 5-day march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 that traversed a section of Interstate 80 adding to the significance of the closure.
— alan wang (@AlanWangABC7) January 19, 2016
The Protesters provided a list of demands which included the immediate termination of both Oakland & SF’s police chiefs and the resignation of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. They identified themselves as “a black queer liberation collective” off-shoot of the Black Lives Matter movement that calls itself “Black.Seed”. The 25 protesters that were arrested on suspicion of public nuisance, unlawful assembly and obstructing free passage but were later released.
Feature Image: Peter White
Further Reading & Resources
#ReclaimMLK Protesters Shut Down Westbound Bay Bridge | KQED News
Bay Bridge reopens after protesters chain themselves, shut down span | SFGate.com
Black Queer Liberation Collective Black.Seed shuts down Bay Bridge | APTP Media
Alameda County D.A. drops charges against Black Friday 14 | SFGate.com
Bay Area steps up security following attacks in Paris | ABC7News.com
Why did Black Lives Matter protesters shut down the Bay Bridge? | CSMonitor.com
Selma to Montgomery March, 50 Years Later | Biography.com
MLK Day protesters block westbound traffic on Bay Bridge | MercuryNews.com