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Hundreds Block Silicon Valley Highway Over Floyd Killing

Geoff Livingston
Flickr / Creative Commons
George Floyd Black Lives Matter Protest, 14th & U Streets, Washington, DC, 5/29/20

An officer was injured after hundreds of people marched through the capital of Silicon Valley and temporarily shut down a five-lane section of highway Friday to protest the killing of an African American man by a white Minneapolis police officer.

Vehicles were at a virtual standstill on the southbound lanes of U.S. 101 in San Jose ahead of rush hour during a pandemic that has kept many Californians home, according to video footage from KGO-TV. Protesters left the highway after an hour.

Police later fired tear gas and nonlethal projectiles into the crowd that grew to about 1,000 protesters in downtown San Jose. Officers in riot gear lined up to prevent them from further disrupting traffic near city hall, KPIX-TV reported.

The station said protesters smashed the windows of police cars and threw water bottles, and several were detained. One of the station's reporters said he was struck by a hard plastic disk fired by police but was not injured.

A San Jose officer was taken to the hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening, said Officer Gina Tepoorten, a department spokeswoman. Police officers' union spokesman Dustin DeRollo said the officer was punched in the head by protesters and knocked unconscious, while other media reports said the officer was struck by a thrown object.

Several hundred protesters meanwhile marched peacefully down city streets in the state capital of Sacramento, gathering near a police station and shouting at dozens of police guarding the building. Many protesters wore masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, KCRA-TV reported.

The activity came a day after nine people were arrested after rocks were thrown at businesses, vehicles and officers during a Southern California protest stemming from the death of George Floyd, authorities said. Small demonstrations occurred elsewhere throughout California and around the nation.

The violence erupted Thursday night in the city of Fontana, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, as about 100 people moved up and down a local thoroughfare, a police statement said.

An unlawful assembly was declared around 9 p.m., and the crowd was ordered to disperse. But some continued to block traffic and throw rocks at officers, police said. It took about an hour to disperse the demonstrators. The damage included broken windows at City Hall.

Rep. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, Fontana's mayor and San Bernardino County supervisors condemned the violence and called it counterproductive.

“Everyone involved has a right to be angry. But channeling that anger to destroy property only harms our own hard-working community members," Torres said.

Mayor Acquanetta Warren had attended the largely peaceful protest. In a statement, she said the crowd “got hijacked by people who decided to throw rocks at innocent drivers and police officers who were simply doing their jobs."

In San Jose, about 300 protesters marched from City Hall through downtown before moving to the highway. Some protesters surrounded vehicles stopped as part of the march, but they also allowed some drivers to squeak by on a shoulder. Some were holding signs seeking justice for Floyd; others said “Black Lives Matter.”

California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Alicia Moreno told KGO-TV that officers planned to escort protesters off the highway, given the potential for injury. Protesters started leaving the highway peacefully around 4 p.m.

Protests also were planned Friday evening in Oakland and Sacramento.

For the third night in a row, several hundred protesters gathered in downtown Los Angeles. Police blocked their way to a freeway. No violence was seen as demonstrators moved around.

Mayor Eric Garcetti started off his regular briefing about the coronavirus outbreak with emotional remarks about Floyd's death.

“He was murdered in cold blood,” Garcetti said, urging Los Angeles residents to protest peacefully.

“Let us continue to demand justice, not just in Minneapolis, but across this country and to walk with peace,” he said.

The death of the 46-year-old Floyd, who was recorded on video pleading for air as an officer knelt on his neck, has shocked the country, including police officers who are usually inclined to withhold comment.

The police officers' unions of San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco issued a joint statement Thursday condemning the actions of the Minneapolis officers.

“What we saw on that video was inconsistent and contrary to everything we have been taught, not just as an academy recruit or a police officer, but as human beings," the statement read. “We are equally disturbed by not seeing any of the other officers on scene intervene to prevent this tragedy."

Another group marched from police headquarters in suburban Santa Monica to an LAPD station in adjacent Venice.

In Minnesota, demonstrators torched a Minneapolis police station. The officer, Derek Chauvin, 44, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the case Friday.