Leaders hope Wednesday night’s action forces a turning point in the conversation about funding for local law enforcement versus other public resources.

By Darwin BondGraham

One leading organizer said the city and local police should recognize that tonight’s act of disobedience will be led by groups that are “pillars” of Oakland’s community. Photo: Pete Rosos

A mass act of civil disobedience of an 8 p.m. curfew imposed by the city and county, which has stifled nighttime protests, is planned this evening in downtown Oakland.

Billed as a “sit-in,” the event’s organizers, including several well-known Oakland nonprofits, are urging adults to gather and sit in the roadway at 14th Street and Broadway at five minutes past 8 p.m. The action is partly in response to the Oakland police department’s use of gas and flash-bang grenades to disperse a group of protesters two nights ago.

George Galvis of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, one of the groups endorsing the action, said his daughter took part in Monday’s student-led march from Oakland Technical High School to downtown, and that she was forcefully arrested by OPD that evening.

“She was bruised, tear-gassed. I was panicking,” said Galvis. “I hadn’t heard from her. I knew she had gotten separated from her friends.” He added, “As a parent, I’m drawing a line in the sand, and I’m putting my body on the line.”

“What’s at stake is our constitutional right to protest,” said Cat Brooks in an interview yesterday. Brooks, a founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, which has endorsed tonight’s demonstration, said the action is a response to “encroaching fascism” at national and local levels.

“This is a time when people need to take to the streets,” said Brooks.

Local officials say the curfew is necessary due to looting and property destruction that has taken place across Oakland and other parts of Alameda County since last Friday. Oakland police have been stretched thin and unable to respond to protests downtown and also respond to calls in other parts of the city.

“OPD found the curfew to be a very effective tool last night,” City of Oakland spokesperson Karen Boyd wrote in an email to The Oaklandside yesterday. “It allowed OPD to re-deploy resources to the International Boulevard corridor, East Oakland and other locations when the looting and robberies began.”

Boyd called the curfew a “flexible tool” that the police can enforce when they feel it is necessary. Last night, a small group of protesters held the intersection of 8th Street and Broadway for about two hours past the curfew. The OPD did not use force or make any arrests.

“The Oakland Police Department chose not to enforce the curfew order as the demonstrators were exercising their First Amendment rights in a peaceful manner,” Boyd said about last night.

Organizers and endorsers of tonight’s event describe it as a potential turning point away from measures that repress protests, and toward solutions that provide aid to people who are hurting from both the current coronavirus pandemic and from ongoing systemic racism.

Zach Norris, executive director of the Ella Baker Center, which “organize[s] with Black, Brown, and low-income people to shift resources away from prisons and punishment,” said the curfew isn’t helping keep Oaklanders safe. He called it a measure based on fear.

“None of that means safety. None of that is supportive of people and won’t help them to live decent lives, especially Black and brown people,” said Norris.

The Ella Baker Center has also endorsed the curfew protest tonight.

Norris said that instead of curfews and further policing, local leaders should be signaling their plans to shift funding from local policing and toward healthcare, education and housing.

“There will be folks from all walks of life coming out to say, ‘You need to govern by actually supporting people and providing the basic things that will help them survive and thrive,’” Norris said.

The Oaklandside asked the Oakland Police Department about how it will respond to tonight’s demonstration.

“The Oakland Police Department will facilitate and encourages peaceful demonstrations before the curfew goes into effect,” wrote Oakland police spokesperson Officer Johnna Watson in an email. “Once the curfew is in effect it is subject to enforcement.”

Jessamyn Sabbag of Oakland Rising, another organization endorsing tonight’s protest and whose mission is to “[unite] communities across Oakland for smart solutions and responsive government,” said the city and local police should recognize that tonight’s act of disobedience will be led by groups that are “pillars” of Oakland’s community.

“What we’re demanding is an end to the curfew and end to tear-gassing,” said Sabbag. On Wednesday morning, Oakland City Councilmembers Nikki Fortunato Bas, Sheng Thao and Rebecca Kaplan urged Mayor Libby Schaaf to immediately prohibit the police from using tear gas on protesters.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf didn’t respond to The Oaklandside for comment about tonight’s planned protest.

“The mayor should make the cops stand down. This is her call,” said Sabbag.