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Protesters block highway, stop train in California

December 9, 2014

BERKELEY, California (AP) — 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 protest grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of two unarmed black men.

Protesters blocked traffic on both sides of a major highway in Berkeley, while another group stood on and sat on train tracks, forcing an Amtrak passenger train to stop Monday night.

A large group of people began peacefully marching earlier Monday through downtown Berkeley. The first stop for demonstrators shouting, “Who do you protect? Peaceful protest” was the Berkeley Police Department. 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 briefly shut down the station.

The protests started after a Nov. 24 decision by the grand jury not 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 another series of demonstrations nationwide.

Police said nearly 160 people were arrested Monday night.

The California Highway Patrol arrested 150 people on suspicion of resisting arrest, obstructing police and other charges.

Berkeley Officer Jennifer Coats says nine other people, including a juvenile, were arrested in the liberal city during a protest that grew to as large as 1,500 people. Five people were arrested Sunday, police said.

Merchants in downtown Berkeley on Monday cleaned up broken glass and took stock of the previous night’s looting after a protest that turned violent Sunday night.

Although many activists in other parts of the country have gone home, demonstrations 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 in Berkeley numbered only a few hundred, but some 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.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said a tiny fraction of protesters are obscuring 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.”

Bates called the violent elements of the demonstration “cowards and thugs who need to take off their masks.”


Associated Press writer Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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