‘Independence for whom?’: Bay Area marks Fourth of July with protests, parades, at-home firework shows

‘Independence for whom?’: Bay Area marks Fourth of July with
protests, parades, at-home firework shows 1

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Bay Area residents marked a Fourth of July overshadowed by a worsening pandemic and civil unrest over long-simmering racism and police violence with protests, demonstrations — and some old-fashioned parades and firework shows.

In Oakland, hundreds of demonstrators rallied at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza before marching up Broadway, denouncing the national holiday. The vast majority of the crowd wore masks, many dressed in black.

“This is the most fitting way to celebrate the Fourth of July — this year and every year,” said Zohra Rahimi. The 17-year-old marched while holding a sign that read, “The Fourth is a celebration of historical fallacy.”

“This year has been a wake-up call,” Rahimi said. “We can’t celebrate this holiday until we have independence for all.”

As they marched, a few protesters lit deafening firecrackers that boomed off downtown Oakland’s newly constructed apartment buildings. The crowd chanted, “Black people used to live here,” and “How do you spell racist? O-P-D.”

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Ehryn Ortega, a 22-year-old who came to the protest from Hayward along with her parents, was one of several marchers who said they have long had conflicted feelings about the Fourth of July given how incongruous its message of freedom and equality has been with America’s history of slavery and racism.

“It has definitely been an odd holiday to celebrate as a Black person in the United States,” Ortega said.

In prior years, her family has spent the day getting together at barbecues, where she said the mood is both celebratory and reflective. With those gatherings out of the question because of coronavirus, Ortega thought about staying home, but donned a pair of black fist earrings and headed to the protest instead.

“You celebrate independence — independence for whom?” she asked.

At Lake Merritt, hundreds of people gathered for protests and barbecuing — an activity that itself became increasingly political after a White woman called police officers on a group of Black men cooking at the lake in 2018, spurring an annual BBQing While Black gathering. Some vendors at the lake sold T-shirts of George Floyd, a Black man killed by police in Minnesota in May.

The killing of Floyd by a police officer, who knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes, and of Breonna Taylor, a Black emergency room technician, shot to death in her own home in Louisville by police officers who forced their way in with a no-knock warrant, sparked weeks of protests nationwide. Some Bay Area cities, under pressure from the sustained protests, have started to shift some funding away from police toward Black communities amid larger policing reforms.

While official firework shows have been canceled throughout most of the Bay Area to limit crowds and prevent the spread of coronavirus, residents have been holding their own shows throughout the region, sometimes to the chagrin of their neighbors. Sales in cities where fireworks are allowed, including Dublin, Newark, Union City and San Bruno were booming earlier in the week, and an official firework show at Gilroy High School was scheduled to take place Saturday night, although parking at the school has been closed and residents were advised to enjoy the festivities from their own homes.

In Fremont, a nonprofit that normally organizes the city’s Fourth of July parade organized a porch version of the festivities. Homes and businesses were decked out in U.S. flags competed for awards in categories including most patriotic, most outstanding decorations and spirit of freedom for the entrant with the most inspiring message.

And in San Jose, some neighbors gathered outside their homes for the annual Naglee Park car parade, watching decorated BMWs, Westfalia vans and a ’41 Chevy truck pass by. On Empire Street, a couple of hundred protesters danced on the streets while listening to hip-hop music as volunteers painted Black Lives Matter across three closed-off blocks of the street. That gathering was organized in conjunction with the family of Anthony Nunez, an 18-year-old East San Jose resident who was killed by San Jose police officers on this day four years ago.

Photographer Karl Mondon contributed to this report

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