OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — A young protest organizer said he was shocked by the size of Monday’s protest rally and criticized Oakland police over its handling of an event that ended in chaos with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
Akil Riley, a recent Oakland Tech High School graduate was returning home to Oakland after his first year at Howard University when he witnessed the outrage in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minnesota.
Riley and a few friends wanted to do something, so they began planning a protest. With an estimated 15,000 people turning out, they had no idea they would be putting on one of the largest protests in the Bay Area.
“I was surprised. Once the yard started filling up, that was surprising. And then realizing there were even more people in the streets and in their windows. I never knew I could make that kind of impact on people.”
Riley says police started tear-gassing people even before the 8 p.m. curfew.
“A friend of mine sent me a text to say they were tear-gassing people. It was not even eight yet,” said Riley. “There was no looting, no destruction of property. Before curfew there should be no reason for that.”
Oakland Deputy Police Chief Leronne Armstrong said after Monday’s peaceful march and speeches at Frank Ogawa Plaza, in which his own daughter participated, a group of people remained in the area and began to march toward 8th and Broadway. At that point, officers started getting hit by rocks and bottles thrown at them and observed people preparing Molotov cocktails, Armstrong said.
After multiple announcements that people were in an unlawful assembly and additional rocks and bottles being thrown, officers deployed tear gas and the group broke up into several splinter groups, Armstrong said, with the action coming before the 8 p.m. curfew.
Riley said it made him angry that thousands of students organized in a peaceful manner, only to have it end with police using tear gas and making arrests.
“Police like to flex their power. I was at a protest on Friday and they were definitely flexing their power,” said Riley.
When asked about how he would make reforms to the current policing system in the United States, he says he just isn’t sure.
“What I do know is, we profit off the prison industrial complex. And the oppression of lower-class people.”