To a distracted passerby, it looked like a group of families singing Christmas carols. But amid the last-minute holiday shopping hustle, Oakland's College Avenue once again became the site of a creative protest against police violence.
"Silent night, deadly night …," sang about 50 people, including numerous children. That was one of several revised Christmas carols, with lyrics denouncing police violence and calling for continued protests.
"It's a great blending of the spirit of the season and the fact that this is going on in our country," said Benjamin Ibarra, who came with his wife and their two kids, ages 3 and 7. “We believe that black lives matter, and we want to make sure our kids understand that as well. And that being kids of color means that they’re targets, and we don’t want them to be targeted anymore."
The affluent Rockridge neighborhood was the scene of a protest called Black Brunch earlier this month. That event featured a group of African-American protesters entering restaurants during weekend brunch hours to speak out about blacks who have been killed by police officers.
Perry and Kathy Riani were out to dinner with their kids Tuesday night when the carolers stopped to sing a few feet away on the sidewalk.
"I think it's good for us as a country to be talking about this," said Kathy Riani.
"It's nice that they did it in a peaceful way with holiday songs," Perry Riani added. "I mean, you get more attention that way. It’s better than jumping on the freeway and scaring people. I think the message still gets out there, but in a way that people can support.”
"It's about reaching people,” said Carla Perez, who works with Movement Generation. “It’s a nonthreatening way to voice how we feel, so people can engage with it more than a protest with lockdowns and blockades and cops everywhere."
Most shoppers and diners appeared supportive, and the Diesel bookstore even invited the protesters inside to sing.
But not everyone. Michelle Sarlat walked away from her sidewalk table at Rockridge Market Hall when the carolers began.
“People are here to shop and have a good time, and they’re Christmas caroling under the guise of spreading cheer. But that isn’t what it's about -- it's a protest," said Sarlat, who was visiting from Danville. "I’m here to enjoy myself. Maybe I’m not interested in hearing that. Maybe I’m here just to have a nice evening.”
Groups supporting the Black Lives Matter movement have demonstrations planned throughout the holidays in Oakland, including Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.