Stephen Lam / Reuters

Tear gas, clashes on second night of Berkeley police brutality protests

Splinter group of protesters blocked traffic in local freeway, then targeted police cars and businesses, reports say

Police fired tear gas at crowds in Berkeley, California, as protesters gathered for a second night to express their anger over recent police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.

Days after a grand jury in Staten Island, N.Y., decided not to indict an officer over the chokehold death of a black man in July, hundreds of protesters began marching peacefully down a main thoroughfare in Berkeley. They had gathered earlieron the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. Officer Jenn Coats of the Berkeley Police Department said the initial crowd, estimated at 500 to 600 people, was peaceful.

Many drivers honked their horns in support of protesters, with some rolling down the windows and shouting encouragement to those demonstrating, local media reported. Protesters called Berkeley residents to the rally, saying, "Out of your houses, into the streets!"

Hours later, the crowd split into smaller groups, with one turning violent and heading to block traffic on Highway 24, local media reported. California Highway Police deployed tear gas in a bid to disperse the crowd after a protester threw an explosive, reported to be a firework, at officers.

Click here for more coverage of Flashpoint: Ferguson

Several police patrol cars were dented and windows smashed by demonstrators from the smaller group. Police said several businesses were looted and vandalized, and SF Gate reported that Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Radioshack were among the outlets targeted. Several police officers were injured in the clashes, with at least two hit by bricks thrown by protesters, according to Inside Bay Area news.

Residents reported a heavy police presence sent to control the crowds.

"It just seemed like an awful lot of officers comparative to the people who were causing trouble," said 52-year-old Peter Williams, a Berkeley resident, told Inside Bay Area News. "Berkeley has a long history of protests, and there's always going to be a small minority who turn violent. But when you have hundreds of police in riot gear, that's going to get people more agitated, and it seemed to incite things. There's got to be a better way."

Activists have demonstrated daily in several U.S. cities since a grand jury's decision on Wednesday not to bring criminal charges against the white police officer whose chokehold contributed to Eric Garner's death in New York City in July.

The killings of Garner and of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, in Ferguson, Missouri, have highlighted what critics call discriminatory policing practices targeting black communities and rekindled a national debate over U.S. race relations.

New York was quieter over the weekend following days of protests, but West Coast cities had braced for trouble after clashes in Berkeley and Seattle on Saturday. The decision by a grand jury not to return an indictment in Brown's killing ignited two nights of arson and rioting in the St. Louis suburbs.

In Seattle about 200 people gathered on Sunday evening, a day after a demonstration drew more than 1,000 protesters, with some throwing rocks and attacking police in clashes that resulted in seven arrests. There was one arrest on Sunday.

New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said on Sunday the department's internal investigation into Garner's death could last four months. He said he would review the results to decide if officers involved in Garner's arrest had violated department policy. The Justice Department is doing its own investigation.

In Chicago, church-affiliated protesters marched through the city, carrying signs and chanting, "I can’t breathe" and "Hands up, don’t shoot," television news footage showed.

Protesters in Miami blocked a portion of Interstate 195 on Sunday afternoon, clogging traffic to the Art Basel show in Miami Beach, CBS-TV Miami reported. The outcry over the recent killings spread to NFL stadiums as well. Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush was among several players donning pre-game practice jerseys reading: "I can't breathe," Garner's dying words.

Al Jazeera and wire services

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter