Berkeley Eric Garner protests turn violent

A Protest in Berkeley turned violent Saturday night when a small group of protestors began hurling bricks, pipes, smoke grenades and missiles at officers, police said.

The protest, one of several in the Bay Area over the past few nights, is in response to a New York grand jury’s decision on Wednesday to not indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man.

Police spokeswoman Jennifer Coats said the protests began peacefully, moved from Telegraph Avenue into the downtown area and then to the front of the Police and Fire Public Safety Building. Coats said small splinter groups then broke from the peaceful demonstrators and began throwing rocks, pipes and bottles at officers.

The projectiles struck numerous officers, and one officer hit with a large sandbag was treated at a local hospital for a dislocated shoulder. Coats said the groups went through several Berkeley neighborhoods and vandalized cars, broke windows and looted businesses.

The crowd continued marching to Martin Luther King Jr. Way and University Avenue, where protestors vandalized businesses on University Avenue, including Trader Joe’s, Radio Shack and a Wells Fargo Bank. The crowd moved west, splintered and regrouped several times as it moved to University Avenue and then to east of San Pablo Avenue and nearby streets.

Coats said Berkeley police used smoke and tear gas after crowds refused to disperse and protestors continued to vandalize local businesses and pelt officers with rocks, bottles and pipes. Several police vehicles were vandalized as the crowd moved through the south campus area.

Police were still working to disperse the crowds just before midnight.

More than a hundred officers from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, Oakland Police Department, Pleasanton Police Department, Hayward Police Department, Alameda Police Department, California Highway Patrol and BART Police Department responded to support Berkeley police.

The exact number of arrests and injuries during the protest was not immediately available.

Berkeley police Officer Byron White said on Twitter that the demonstrators also released gas into the crowd. At 9:39 p.m., he tweeted:

“So far, protesters have thrown sandbags, pipes, bricks, sideview mirrors, and smoke grenades at officers.”

Multiple reports on Twitter showed pictures of windows broken at the Trader Joe’s grocery store on University Avenue along with produce crates strewn in the street and wine bottles smashed on the ground.

There were also reports on Twitter of protesters marching near the University Avenue entrance to Interstate Highway 80 in an effort to breach the freeway.

A California Highway Patrol officer said protesters did not make it onto the freeway and only caused temporary delays. The downtown and North Berkeley BART stations were both shut down due to the protests but were open as of 11:15 p.m.

BART officials said there are no delays in the system.

After shutting down the BART station, protesters were eventually blocked in by police at the intersection of Durant and Telegraph avenues, according to Twitter accounts.

The protesters refused to leave and police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, which police had declared an unlawful assembly.

Photos and accounts on Twitter showed garbage cans pulled out into the street and set on fire on Telegraph Avenue.

The demonstration started around 5 p.m. in response to a New York grand jury’s decision on Wednesday to not indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man.

The protest is one of dozens that have taken place across the Bay Area and the country in the past two weeks, including protests Saturday afternoon in Oakland and San Francisco, against police brutality.

The demonstrations in Oakland were very peaceful and police said they did not even respond to the crowd, which moved through businesses in the retail corridors of the Rockridge neighborhood.

An Oakland police watch commander said there were no reports of arrests Friday night after demonstrations shut down Interstate Highway 880 and the West Oakland BART station before returning to downtown Oakland, where it dissipated.

In San Francisco, demonstrators marched down Market Street and staged a “die-in” at Powell Street, according to accounts and photos on Twitter.

Eventually, police arrested protesters on Market Street, but Officer Gordon Shyy said he would not be able to say how many people were arrested until Monday.

San Francisco police responded to a report of a person who threw a large firecracker near a construction site in the unit block of Fifth Street during the demonstrations, Shyy said.

The firecracker detonated but no one was injured, Shyy said. Police stopped the suspect vehicle, where officers found a second firecracker.

Shyy said the department’s bomb squad responded and handled the explosive at the scene.