On the march against police racism and violence: report from California

Protests against police violence and racism have continued all week in America, with the biggest marches on Saturday. rs21 member Amy Gilligan reports from California.

Oakland6

Tens of thousands of people in cities across the US took to the streets on Saturday afternoon as part of continuing protests against police killings and racism. Organisers estimated around 60,000 participated in the march in New York, and around 25,000 in Washington DC.

Oakland 2In Oakland, California, I took part in a 4,000-strong protest that went from what is widely known as Oscar Grant Plaza, after Oscar Grant who was killed by the BART police six years ago, to the Alameda County Court house. There have been protests almost daily in Oakland since the failure of the grand jury to indite Darren Wilson, most of which have occurred in the evening. Yesterday’s protest occurred during the day with lots of families participating. Around 600 people, mainly students, had marched over five miles from Berkeley to join the Oakland protest, blocking an intersection on their way.

Oakland1Four black girls lead the march carrying a banner reading “Fists up! Fight back!”. It was clear that a radical current ran through the march with the chants “Shut it down!” and  “Indite, convict, send those killer cops to jail, the whole damn system is guilty as hell”.

At the court house speakers including young black poets and singers addressed the crowd. Organisers made sure that we heard from Oscar Grant’s mother and others who had also had family members killed by the police. Speakers emphasised the importance of continuing to come together and strategic organising. As well as the police killing black people, the large numbers of black people in jail was also raised – black women are the fastest growing prison population in the US. The rally ended with the whole crowd chanting “I believe that we will win”.

Oakland5There was a very low (visible) police presence on the protest. People thought this was because an undercover cop had pulled a gun on a protest a few days ago, and so the cops didn’t feel they should adopt a high profile. In the centre of San Francisco police were much more visible, and had riot helmets and the longest batons I’ve ever seen, over a metre.

The scale of the protests over the last few weeks in the US has been inspiring, and the question of how the movement there, as well as the one that we have begun to see develop in Britain. Young, black and radical activists have been at the forefront of the protests, making this new movement one of the potentially most exciting in many years.

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