On Saturday, a crowd of about three thousand met at Grove Park in South Berkeley to march down Martin Luther King Jr. Way to Berkeley Police headquarters and City Hall. The march, organized by UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union (BSU), was one of several concurrent demonstrations in Berkeley protesting police brutality and systemic racism, following weeks of nationwide protests inspired by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police.
Supporters joined local government officials and the BSU at Grove Park for two unified actions. The City of Berkeley arranged a second-line style march, complete with performers and a brass band, followed shortly by the BSU-led group. At Civic Center Plaza, Berkeley’s mayor, Jesse Arreguín, members of the City Council, and local activists gave speeches about defeating systemic racism, reforming law enforcement, and investing in Berkeley’s Black community. As Berkeley Councilmember Ben Bartlett, who emceed the event, read the names of dozens of men and women killed by police or racist violence, the swelling crowd fell silent. Some cried, others bowed their heads in mourning.
Soon after, the BSU arrived at Civic Center Plaza with hundreds of allies in tow, whose chants of “Breonna Taylor” and “George Floyd” drowned out city speakers. Councilmember Bartlett ceded the stage to current and former BSU leaders who demanded more support from the University, where Black students make up less than two percent of the campus. Many shared stories of run-ins with UC Berkeley’s police department and expressed frustration at feeling like an outsider on their own campus. BSU leadership, including Chair Maya Hammond, made impassioned calls for divestment from the police on campus and in the city of Berkeley. “We’re talking about abolishing that police department right there,” Cal alumnus Blake Simons, said, indicating the Berkeley Police Headquarters behind the crowd.
Dr. Ramona Tascoe, an activist who cut her teeth as an undergraduate student at San Francisco State University in the city’s 1968 student strikes, condemned the systemic oppression of communities of color. “Dismantle the powers that undergird the institutions of racism and discrimination,” she said. Councilmember Bartlett closed out the demonstration by planting a dogwood tree and offering a message of hope: “A new era of racial justice and true freedom begins now.”