OAKLAND (BCN) — Oakland leaders are pleading for unity as near-constant protests have rocked the Bay Area since the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president.
An estimated 7,000 people marched against Trump in downtown Oakland on Wednesday as thousands more demonstrated in San Francisco. In Oakland, the protests escalated to violence and vandalism.
According to Oakland police spokeswoman Officer Johnna Watson, 20 businesses were vandalized on Wednesday, three police officers were injured and five other people were treated for injuries in the downtown area by Oakland firefighters. Watson did not immediately know the nature of the injuries and whether those injured were protesters.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf held a news conference Thursday morning to call for peace and unity in the wake of Trump’s election and the hostile environment to immigrants and others that his ascension to power threatens.
But even as she was preparing to speak, the downtown news conference was interrupted by yet another protest, one of several walkouts from high schools in the region in the last two days.
The roughly 50 students came from ARISE High School, a 280-student school in the city’s Fruitvale District where 95 percent of the student body are low-income students of color.
The students waved Mexican flags and shouted, “brown and proud” and “f— Trump” as Schaaf and her spokeswoman Erica Derryck urged them to be quiet long enough for the mayor to speak.
Eventually they reached a compromise and the students stood behind city officials as they pledged to use the power of the local government to the extent that they can to protect the city’s vulnerable communities from Trump’s threat. Trump ran on a campaign platform to build a wall on the Mexican border and deport thousands from the country.
Schaaf pointed to the billions of dollars approved in Tuesday’s election to improve public transit and affordable housing in the city as evidence that the progressive values of the Bay Area will endure.
“That is what this community will continue to be about regardless of who is the president,” Schaaf said.
But the city must be united and confront that threat together, and the vandalism of downtown businesses undermines that effort, she said.
City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who represents the downtown area and won reelection on Tuesday, said it is “heartbreaking in the wake of that national disappointment for our local businesses to suffer.”
Oakland’s small businesses are owned by a diverse group and many of them are as angry about Trump’s election as anyone else, Gibson McElhaney said.
The vast majority of the nearly 7,000 people who protested were peaceful and some even tried to stop the vandalism, she said. But when there are demonstrations in Oakland, a few people often break windows, set fires and spray paint buildings.
Schaaf said, “Vandals use both the physical and visual shield of a large protest” to destroy property in the city.
In addition to the vandalism, there were 40 fires set in the streets and one set inside a business on 14th Street. Police said protesters assaulted officers with rocks, bottles, fireworks and Molotov cocktails and
officers responded with tear gas and flashbang grenades. Thirty people were arrested.
The demonstration grew so large that police had to call on 12 outside law enforcement agencies to assist them. The protest was largely peaceful with scattered vandalism for about two hours until it reached the area of Oakland police headquarters. There, demonstrators say police deployed tear gas unprovoked, but police said some protesters had started behaving violently.
City leaders are bracing for another protest Thursday evening but Schaaf said in a statement that it can be difficult for police to confront vandals directly because officers can then become a target for violence.
She said she is working with the department to improve strategies for combating the vandalism and urging local business to take steps to protect themselves, including having a presence inside during protests and
keeping store lights on at night. She is also urging protesters to come up with their own strategies.”
“We are deeply sorry that your businesses continue to be targets, but we want you to know we are working hard to employ tactics that will prevent this from happening in the future, while also preserving the very values that we as Oaklanders and as Americans cherish — even when this balancing act is so hard,” Schaaf said.
Meanwhile, demonstrations have continued elsewhere in the region Thursday, including in San Francisco where several high schools had students walk out and march throughout the city.