California erupted in protest alongside the rest of the country over the weekend, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Across the state, protesters marched and chanted, calling for justice for not just George Floyd but all victims of police brutality and systemic racism in recent years. The demonstrations sprung up not just in cities known for protest, such as Oakland and Los Angeles, but throughout the state, from Eureka, near the Oregon border, to La Mesa in southern California , from the coastal Santa Cruz to the conservative stronghold of the Central Valley.
Among the cities where protests emerged:
In many cities, the protesters remembered and honored the lives of their own who were killed or mistreated by police. In Oakland, they marched from a plaza renamed during the Occupy protests for Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old black man who was fatally shot in the back as he laid handcuffed on the ground by a transit police officer in 2009. In Sacramento, much of the action was led by Stevante Clark, brother of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black father of two killed by police in his grandparents’ backyard when officers mistook his cellphone for a gun. In Los Angeles, the mother of Kenneth Ross Jr, a black man who struggled with mental illness, protested in her son’s memory.
Throughout the weekend, protesters marched and kneeled in George Floyd’s memory, their frustration with the continuous loss of black lives clear. Protesters shut down freeways and bridges in Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose and Los Angeles. On Sunday, protesters in Oakland conducted a car caravan demonstration to comply with social distancing guidelines.
But in some cities, the widespread gatherings eventually devolved into chaos as police tried to break up demonstrations, with hundreds arrested and law enforcement sending teargas, rubber bullets, flash bangs and pepper balls into the crowd.
Looters smashing windows and setting fire to stores and property prompted the Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, to call in the national guard and set a curfew. California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, who expressed support for the protests, declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles.
The unrest spread to the rich suburbs of Beverly Hills, Long Beach and Santa Monica, prompting curfews in those cities as well. In the Bay Area, similar looting and vandalism targeting the city’s high-end retail in Union Square prompted Mayor London Breed to impose an 8pm curfew. The unrest spread to the suburbs of Emeryville and Walnut Creek, where a woman was shot in the arm during the chaos.
In all, at least nine cities in California set a curfew, with all of Los Angeles county under a 6pm curfew and several of its cities following stricter guidelines – Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, for example, set a 1pm curfew.
While protests raged in Oakland on Friday, a federal contract security officer was killed and another injured in a shooting outside the US courthouse. In Bakersfield, police arrested a 31-year-old man for driving his Toyota Rav4 into a crowd of protesters, striking and injuring a 15-year-old girl. In Visalia, a driver in a blue Jeep flying a Trump flag hit two protesters.
On Monday, Newsom decried “the looting, the violence, the threats against fellow human beings”, saying “that has no place in this state and in this nation”. But he emphasized that now more than ever “we have to own up to some very difficult things”.
“The black community is not responsible for what is happening in this country right now,” he said. “We are. Our institutions are responsible. We are accountable to this moment. Let’s just call that out. We have a unique responsibility to our black community in this country and we have been playing lip service about that for generations.”
More than 4,500 national guard personnel are available for deployment throughout California, though right now they are mostly in southern California, Newsom said. Despite this, he said he recognized that “an armed camp is not a place of peace and the answer to violence is not more violence”.
In his briefing, Newsom addressed protesters, telling them “your rage is real”. “Express it so we can hear it,” he said.
“You’ve lost patience, so have I,” he said. “You are right to feel wronged. You are right to feel the way you are feeling. We collectively, society, has a responsibility to you to do better and be better.”