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159 Arrested In Third Night Of Berkeley Protests

Noah Berger / AP
 

Noah Berger / AP

(AP) - Updated 6:52 A.M. Authorities arrested nearly 160 people in Berkeley as crowds marched for a third night in a row to protest grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of two unarmed black men in other states.

The California Highway Patrol says a large group of demonstrators blocked traffic on both sides of Interstate 80 after destroying perimeter fencing and flooding lanes Monday night.

The agency says protesters threw rocks and other objects at officers. It took about an hour and a half to clear the freeway.

The CHP 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.

Original Story -- 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.

Nine people, including a juvenile, were arrested in Berkeley, 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.

A large group 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 California Highway Patrol may have made more arrests after protesters streamed onto the interstate, Coats said. CHP arrest numbers were not immediately available.

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 after a protest turned violent. Five people were arrested Sunday, police said.

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."

Stuart Geiger, 27, a University of California, Berkeley, doctoral student, recorded video of peaceful demonstrators attempting to stop the recent looting of a Radio Shack.

"There was a pretty vocal sentiment there about keep this a peaceful protest and stay on message," Geiger said.

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.