Protests Grow Violent in Some U.S. Cities

Berkeley protests

Photo courtesy of Stephen Lam/AFP/

Protests Grow Violent in Some U.S. Cities
| published December 8, 2014 |

By Thursday Review staff


Though there have been protests in more than a hundred cities in the last two weeks, Oakland has become a secondary flash point for protests—and sometime violent demonstrations—against what many Americans see as a growing trend of extreme violence by police officers against unarmed civilians.

Demonstrations were large and occasionally violent weeks ago after a grand jury found no reason to proceed with prosecution in the case of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in an altercation near Wilson’s squad car. More violence erupted in scores of U.S. cities after a panel in New York cleared a police officer in the “chokehold” death of an unarmed African-American man who was allegedly selling black market cigarettes.

This weekend, for a second night in a row, demonstrators and police clashed in the area around the University of California at Berkeley campus, and the violence quickly spread into nearby Oakland, where police and protesters went head-to-head.

At least a dozen arrests were made in both areas on Sunday, and there were scores of injuries in the melees. Some protesters blocked the interstate highways and freeways, but they were later forced off of the normally busy roads by police in riot gear. Other demonstrators smashed windows to shops, restaurants and offices while police attempted to disperse the large crowds using tear gas and pepper spray. Police spokespersons say that flammable and explosive objects were thrown toward the police in several of the melees.

Starting early on Sunday afternoon, police generally kept their distance as the initial protests began peacefully on campus. But as the throngs began to move through town, things became increasingly violent. Several protesters were badly injured, and at least six police officers were injured as well. Other injuries occurred when individuals attempted to intercede in violence and looting and were struck or beaten by other protesters. One person was badly injured when he attempted to block demonstrators from smashing and looting a Radio Shack store; that counter-protester was struck in the head with a hammer, according to Berkeley police.

Reporters and witnesses on the scene in the disturbances in Oakland and Berkeley say that at least 500 members of the larger demonstration were engaged in violence—tossing objects at law enforcement, breaking the windows of cars and shops, and attempting to light fires. One band of protesters also engaged in vandalism at City Hall and at smaller municipal facilities.

Other protests turned to patchy violence in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, and New York City over the weekend, as demonstrations continue to swell across the nation, though those demonstrations resulted in fewer arrests. Many of the larger protests in the eastern states and in the Midwest remained peaceful, but police along the west coast are concerned that demonstrations could get more violent this week. In San Francisco there were reports of looting in some neighborhoods.

The most recent demonstrations were in protest of the case of Eric Garner, killed in July when he was tackled by police officers in New York City. Video footage of the altercation shows Garner struggling with about five police officers, gasping for breath and muttering “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” Garner was not armed, but police say he was resisting arrest in the altercation. One police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, used a chokehold maneuver which has been explicitly banned in New York. Garner died moments later of apparent asphyxiation. The chokehold maneuver was banned some years ago in New York State as a result of similar deaths, and it has also been banned by many other police departments across the United States. Nevertheless, despite the video footage and the acknowledgement by the half dozen police officers present on the scene that Garner was unarmed, the grand jury investigating the incident cleared the officers, and the policemen involved were not charged of any crime.

In the meantime, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has said that he wants the power to probe any killings in New York State if the case involves police officers and unarmed citizens, no matter the nature of the incident. Schneiderman said that the protests now taking place across the country are a reflection of a “crisis of confidence” in the justice system in general, and that fewer people have trust in their local police than ever before.

“The horrible events surrounding the death of Eric Garner,” Schneiderman said, “have revealed a deep crisis of confidence in some of the fundamental elements of our criminal justice system.” Schneiderman said that it was essential that communities and police departments quickly re-establish trust.

Schneiderman and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo are considering executive action and legislation which would mandate that any killing of an unarmed civilian by law enforcement be handled only by a specially-created investigative panel. Some Washington analysts suggest that the White House may endorse just such a plan for other states as well. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to announce a major overhaul of how police should conduct themselves—possibly a federal standard designed to be an example for local and state police departments and sheriff’s offices.

The Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri sparked violence and rioting when a local grand jury—after reviewed evidence and listening to testimy for four days—found no reason to charge police officer Darren Wilson with a crime. Wilson has since resigned his position with the Ferguson police department and is not expected to remain living in the area.

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