Hundreds of Oaklanders protested peacefully outside Mayor Libby Schaaf's home in June 2020. Credit: Ricky Rodas

Around 1,000 people rallied in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood Wednesday evening and marched to Mayor Libby Schaaf’s home in the Oakmore neighborhood to demand that she “defund” the Oakland Police Department. Protesters also called for the disbanding of the Oakland schools police force.

The march was organized by Dwayne Khyri Davis, a 17-year-old recent graduate of McClymonds High School and Jessica Ramos, a 17-year-old student at Skyline High School. Shaylah Ellis, a 23-year-old teacher at Skyline, also helped organize the event.

“We speak the name of George Floyd. We speak the name of Trayvon Martin,” said Davis at the Fruitvale rally. “We also speak the names of our ancestors Emmett Till, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, who sacrificed so that we’re able to breathe.”

Ramos said during the rally that she thinks it’s important for youth to lead. “We have to educate our own parents on why Black lives matter,” she said in English and Spanish. Ramos’ mother then led the crowd in a chant: “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido.” (“The people united will never be defeated.”)

A spokesperson for the Oakland mayor’s office, Justin Berton, provided The Oaklandside with a statement addressing last night’s protest. “The outrage all across America right now needs to be heard, needs to be expressed, and needs to work to undo systemic racism and police brutality. The mayor has been in communication with organizers to honor their voice, their concerns, and support their right to demonstrate peacefully and passionately,” the statement said.

But Schaaf also told ABC 7 News that she doesn’t support calls to de-fund the police. She said there needs to be more investment in reforming the police.

Mayor Schaaf has a town hall scheduled for tonight about structural racism and police reform. In advance, she announced that she and interim Oakland Police Chief Susan Manheimer are proposing to ban the use of carotid chokeholds by officers. A carotid hold blocks the flow of blood to the brain and can result in death. Currently, Oakland police are allowed to use carotid holds.

Like other recent protests, safety was a concern for organizers on Wednesday. A flyer distributed online said masks were mandatory. Organizers passed out water and snacks to the crowd. One speaker acknowledged the difficulty of social distancing during a protest, but felt that it was necessary to show up in numbers. “Black lives have been experiencing a pandemic for centuries, and that is police brutality,” they said.

After an hour of impassioned speeches in the Walgreens parking lot on Foothill Blvd., a large flatbed truck pulled onto Fruitvale Avenue and led the march. Protestors danced up Fruitvale to the sound of hyphy music. As the march passed the Krispy Krunchy Chicken on Fruitvale and Blossom Street, they were greeted by a group of drummers playing in solidarity.

Police presence at the march was minimal. A small number of CHP officers equipped with face shields and batons stood at the entrance to Interstate 580.

Outside Schaaf’s home, the protesters held a minute of silence and then shouted the names of people killed by police. Schaaf did not make an appearance nor directly address the protestors.

Speakers called for the defunding of local police, but spent a bulk of the time addressing the crowd on their desire to remove police presence from OUSD schools. While the march was underway, the Oakland Unified School District board was meeting and considering a resolution that would disband their police department, the aim of a nine-year campaign led by the Black Organizing Project to dramatically reform school-safety programs.

Gene Hazzard, who has lived in Oakland since the 1970’s and took part in Wednesday night’s rally, said he was moved to see so many people in the streets. “This is the first time I can see some meaningful structural change,” Hazzard said.

Outside the mayor’s home, protestors lit candles and held up their cellphones in one more moment of silence before leaving the normally quiet residential street around 9:20 p.m.

As the demonstration came to a close, some protestors left signs that read “Defund OPD” on Schaaf’s lawn. Tupac Shakur’s song “Changes” played from a sound system as a few hundred people made the long trek down the hill back to Fruitvale.

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.