BERKELEY — Hundreds of people marched through Berkeley for a third night a row, blocking a major highway and stopping a train as activists in this ultra-liberal bastion protested grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of two unarmed black men on the other side of the country.
Protesters blocked traffic on both sides of Interstate 80 in Berkeley, while another group stood and sat on train tracks, temporarily forcing an Amtrak train to stop Monday night.
The California Highway Patrol said a large group of demonstrators destroyed highway perimeter fencing, flooded lanes and threw rocks and other objects at officers. It took about an hour and a half to clear the interstate, and no major injuries were reported.
The agency arrested 150 people on suspicion of resisting arrest, obstructing police and other charges.
The Berkeley Police Department arrested an additional nine people, including a juvenile, Officer Jennifer Coats said early Tuesday. She described the latest protests as mostly peaceful, with no injuries and no reports of looting or damaged property. Police estimated the crowd at about 1,500 people.
The protesters began peacefully marching Monday through downtown Berkeley. The first stop for demonstrators shouting, “Who do you protect? Peaceful protest” was the Police Department, where a line of officers in riot gear blocked them from getting close to the building. The group then headed to a Bay Area Rapid Transit train station and sat outside, prompting authorities to shut down the station briefly.
But as the night went on, the protesters divided into smaller groups who disrupted traffic and train passengers.
“The cops need to know, the world needs to know, people of color are subjected to a brutal police state every day,” Berkeley resident Johnny Nguyen told the Oakland Tribune
on Monday evening.
Although many activists in other parts of the country have gone home, protests in Berkeley and Oakland are still active, reflecting the area's long history of protest dating to the 1960s.
The crowds that came out to protest are not college students or residents so much as full-time demonstrators who protest anything — war, prison conditions and economic inequality — and sometimes use demonstrations as a pretext for violence and vandalism, just as they did during the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Merchants on Monday cleaned up broken glass and took stock of the previous night's looting. Five people were arrested Sunday after a protest turned violent, police said.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said a tiny fraction of protesters obscured the wider message calling for reform of policing policies nationwide.
“The people in the Bay Area are sensitive to worldwide issues,” Bates said. “Unfortunately, there is a small element that uses violence at times to make their point.”
In keeping with the city's protest history, Berkeley leaders have put limits on police. Officers cannot have search dogs, stun guns or helicopters and are restricted in the type of gear they can wear, said Sgt. Chris Stines, Berkeley police union president.
The protests started after a grand jury on Nov. 24 declined decision to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. A New York grand jury on Dec. 3 declined to prosecute a police officer captured on video applying a fatal chokehold on Eric Garner. That decision set off more demonstrations nationwide.
Oakland police have arrested about 200 people since the protests started.