After the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri last August the United States erupted into protests and riots. In the Bay Area we saw both peaceful marches through the streets and violent clashes with police.
A team member and I went out to cover a few of these gatherings.
I was sitting at home, flipping through the news on YouTube when I realized that there was going to be a large protest taking place in Oakland that evening, this was November 25th, our first night out there. I quickly called my colleague, and when he answered the phone words quickly began to vomit from my mouth,
“We have about an hour to make it out there before it starts. Come on this will be the shit, good coverage too. Man they’re gonna go fucking nuts!”
I wouldn’t say he was as thrilled as I was but he was more than willing to go cover a good story. He rushed over to my place and we set off for the Bart station, but not before stopping off at the mall to have some hats embroidered with the word PRESS.
When we finally made it out to Oakland it was cold as fuck, and I mean cold as fuck, I’m not a big guy so that icy wind can get me. Anyways we stepped onto the streets at 12th and Broadway and quickly ran into some of the protesters. Some holding signs that read “Arrest Darren Wilson” others said “Jail Killer Cops” but the message was very clear, police will not be welcome here tonight.
The protesters quickly moved their way towards the I-80 freeway on ramp where they were met with a large force of officers carrying guns, batons, full riot gear, I mean these guys were ready to go to war. And with who? A bunch of peaceful citizens…well at this point they were still peaceful. But that could only last so long. Officers quickly surrounded the group on three sides and told us to get away from the freeway. As the march back peddled protesters flipped off the cops they strolled by, almost like the walk of shame after a long night of drinking on a college campus except that person being shamed had a 12 gauge shotgun and was just looking for an excuse to pull the trigger. Not the person I would be flipping off but hey that’s just me.
The march worked its way back onto Broadway and in moments people were running up the street attempting to take another freeway on ramp. Determination what can I say, they had a point they wanted to get across and they were planning on making it heard no matter what.
I chased the mob of people, before we were almost all boxed in again by the storm troopers. One of the cops tried to grab my camera when I started filming her along with the group of protesters shouting at her, “Hands up don’t shoot.” I had to jump back quickly and point at the hat.
In all honesty how the fuck is it that easy! I mean for all she knows I could have stolen that hat from a news caster, but I mean what idiot would walk around with a hat that says PRESS on it unless they were really covering something. Still to easy.
Maybe she wasn’t enjoying her night as much as I was enjoying mine, but I don’t blame her, would you want to deal with a couple hundred screaming protesters?
After the march was on the move again I realized I had lost my colleague. I forgot to mention, this man was walking around with a $1500 piece of equipment on his face, Google Glass. Now I am not going to lie that shit is creepy as fuck, but it is also one of the most useful pieces of equipment in the field. I mean this guy was live streaming the whole night, plus taking photos and live tweeting. Ok he was trying to live tweet but that was nearly impossible when we have to sprint every few blocks to avoid police or rowdy protesters. I on the other hand tweeted what I could but gave up once shit really hit the fan. I’m getting off topic.
I was in a bit of a panic loosing him but to my surprise I found him standing on top of a trash can trying to get the best shot of the protesters working their way down the street.
“James you bastard,” He cried out to me, “You left me back there”
“Sorry, had to keep up” I laughed off at him. But we could not get wrapped up, we had to stay with the protest. So we jogged to the front which had now snaked down Telegraph and underneath an over pass. At this moment, well, that was when shit got real, and I mean really real, I’m talking about real, like finishing school and realizing you aren’t about to do shit with that Nutrition specialist degree and end up being a waiter at the local mom and pops cause life is a bitch and then you die. That kinda real.
As I reached the front of the march I saw a trash can that had been lit on fire. It was the beacon, a sign, and it stated
“thank you for participating in your local protest, you are now entering a riot zone, please enjoy your stay. And remember keep all valuables out of sight and in your backpack.”
Crossing under that over pass, crossing that trash can, that was it. From there our night just got crazy. When the two of us reached the other side of the underpass we saw these two black women shouting at a black cop. Now I felt bad for the guy, its not his fault Michael Brown was murdered, its not his fault that we live in a racist society that panders to the needs of posh white suburban people.
But I could also see why they were tearing him a new one, I mean I saw that man cry. To them, he was a traitor, he represented everything that they hated and despised. “How do you feel when a white man is ashamed of you? Cause you can’t help your people” they yelled at him. Got respect for those two women, they got up in his face I mean so close spit flew from their mouths and onto his face protector. Thats some anger.
But that was not all that was on the other side of this surreal underpass. Oh no, that was by far the least strange thing. I witnessed children with their parents screaming at police, children that I’m pretty sure have no idea what the fuck any of this even means. I could be wrong, hell if I know, but I don’t believe children belong at a riot.
It wasn’t long after the screaming at cops and signs held by children that the first fire was really set. My colleague and I walked back under the over pass as we saw a large crowd gather around something. It was something glowing orange and lighting the entirety of the over pass. What was it? A mattress, a fucking mattress and you know the best part? The mattress had burn me spray painted on it like someone knew that this was going to be burned at one point or another.
The crowd cheered around the burning mattress as some of the protesters quickly jumped the fence and climbed on top of the over pass to block traffic. We moved out from under the over pass and regrouped ourselves with the rest of the protesters. But the mood had changed, those that were there at the beginning had seemed to had gone silent or completely left the crowd what was left now was a bunch of pissed off young adults with rocks and lighters.
Soon every block had a barricade of fire and trash making it nearly impossible for the police to catch up.
I said before that the trash can on fire was the call to arms, well these barricades were the response. They were built quickly and were very effective in keeping police at bay because now, well now the real fun started. People began grabbing rocks from broken up asphalt and putting them into their pockets or bags, we all knew what they were going to be used for and sure enough a block up I heard the sound of broken glass. I quickly raced ahead again leaving my colleague behind me. This time I ran into a large group storming into a Mercedes Benz dealership. I don’t know if they were looking for money or just for more shit to break but they were out of there quicker than they got in.
Then across the street came another sound of broken glass, this time from a Subway. I mean what were they really going to steal, cheese? Are you kidding me, and sure enough some mother fucker ran out of that place with a handful of queso. I was so wrapped up in filming that I hardly noticed the M1000 that had been thrown no less than a few meters from me. All I was looking at was the mayhem through my camera. The shots I was getting were incredible, I talking an anarchist’s wet dream, the shit you only imagine you’d get to take photos of. If it wasn’t for my colleague I may have taken a large amount of glass to the face because that thing blew only seconds after he pulled me away.
We moved away from the crowd for a few minutes, gathering ourselves one might call it. When we went to rejoin the group we saw it, the BEAR. One of those crazy SWAT vehicles that looks like it belongs in the streets of a war zone, then again I would have called this a war zone everyone just forgot their gun at home.
At this point we decided it was time for us to turn in. Bart would be closing soon, shit we didn’t know if it was still even running at this point but we need to get the fuck out of here. We high tailed it outta there and walked the long three miles back to the Bart station where our night had began and hoped onto the last train home. This was our first night during the winter protests, first of many.