Peaceful, Disruptive Protesters Shut Down I-580 in Oakland

Protesters marching in solidarity with Charlottesville blocked traffic on both sides of I-580 near Grand Ave. in Oakland on Saturday night. (Bert Johnson/KQED)

Hours after violence broke out at a white nationalist rally in Virginia on Saturday -- and one person was killed when a man drove his car into a group of counter-demonstrators -- people marched through Oakland to denounce white supremacy.

A few hundred people marched around Lake Merritt before walking onto the Grand/Lakeshore exit of I-580 late Saturday. Drivers exiting the freeway looked confused as the marchers, many of them clad in Antifa-gear -- wearing a mask, black hoodie and dark pants, shouted, “Whose streets? Our streets!” before taking the highway.

“We have to bring attention to what’s happening in Charlottesville and to show that we will resist Trump and this fascist regime,” a woman wearing a mask told KQED. “We will not tolerate white supremacy. So we have to get in the way of people’s normal days, we have to cause a little bit of disruption … peaceful disruption.”

The move by protesters marked a day of domestic outrage nationwide after an Ohio man was arrested for killing a counter-protester and injuring many others following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. James Alex Fields Jr., 20, was charged with second-degree murder after allegedly plowing his Dodge Challenger through a crowd of people.

Two Virginia State Police troopers investigating the day's events also died when the helicopter they were in crashed in Albemarle County, where Charlottesville is located, according to the state police.

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White supremacists had descended on Charlottesville after the mayor announced plans to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

In Oakland, the late night protest was peaceful; there were no officer injuries.

Protesters first took to the streets -- then the freeway. Oakland police had anticipated a potential march on the freeway and had blocked the on-ramp to I-580. But protesters changed course to enter the opposite off-ramp as oncoming traffic left the highway.

“Are they really doing this?” one officer said.

The protesters blocked traffic in both directions for about 20 minutes. During that time, some of them shot fireworks into the air, while others spray-painted concrete surfaces around the roadway. About 20 protesters crossed into oncoming freeway traffic, locked hands, and stared down oncoming traffic before cars began to slow.

Soon the protesters were surrounded by cars and police, as some California Highway Patrol officers dressed in riot gear left their vehicles and took to the freeway. They were flanked by CHP motorcycle units, who ordered the protesters to leave.

Officers with the California Highway Patrol exited their vehicles to push protesters back down the off-ramp of 1-580 after both sides of the freeway had been blocked. (Bert Johnson/KQED)

Ultimately, the protesters gave way and retreated back toward Lake Merritt. They were cheered by onlookers and many drivers who had left their cars to capture the protest on their phones -- though some motorists didn't seem to know about the events in Charlottesville.

A few hundred protesters marched up the off-ramp from I-580 East on Saturday night. (Bert Johnson/KQED)

“Why are they doing this?” asked one motorist in a white Cadillac SUV.

Told it was to protest the deaths in Charlottesville, she turned to her phone and began typing with her thumbs.

“I didn’t hear anything about that,” she said, her face illuminated by her screen. “I’ll have to Google it.”