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At these Oakland restaurants, rallies of support are cut short by curfew

George Floyd's name is written on a boarded-up window at the Fox Theater in Oakland, Calif.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

On Monday, Alameda County issued a countywide curfew barring its residents from being outdoors in any public space from 8 p.m. each night until 5 a.m. the following day. The order, which was issued by the Alameda County Sheriff, was echoed later that day by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who announced a state of emergency and citywide curfew “until further notice.”

For many East Bay businesses still reeling from the closures and loss of sales caused by the coronavirus outbreak and pandemic, the curfew — which, according to Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, was “a result of civil unrest, violence, looting, arson and the destruction of personal and real property” — created yet another obstacle.

Chef Nelson German, owner of the restaurants alaMar Kitchen and Sobre Mesa in Uptown Oakland, noted an uptick in orders on Wednesday afternoon, as the local community rallied around his and other black-owned businesses in a show of solidarity. German decided to close his restaurants an hour early at 7 p.m., to allow his staff time to get home before the curfew went into effect.

“A lot of people were trying to order after 7 p.m. but I had to tell them that we were closed,” said German, whose restaurants are open only for takeout while shelter-in-place orders are in effect. “The majority of my staff is black, so I wanted to get them home, since it’s less safe for them to walk around right now.”

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German and his co-owner and wife, May German, wrote letters for their staff members to carry that verified they were employees of the restaurant, and therefore essential workers, and printed pay stubs for them to present to police in case they were stopped for a curfew violation on their way home from work.

“As a business owner, I understand both sides of the curfew issue. I don’t want looters taking advantage,” he said. Unlike some nearby businesses, Nelson decided not to cover his restaurants’ windows with plywood boards. Instead, he hung up handwritten signs that said “Proud to be Black-owned,” “#ReallyBlackOwned” and “#StandUnited.” His restaurants have not been damaged during the protests.

At 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, as joggers circled Oakland’s Lake Merritt and residents laid out on picnic blankets to escape the heat of their apartments on one of the hottest days of the year, a crowd of more than 20 customers, all wearing face masks, gathered outside of Vegan Mob, a black-owned restaurant on Lake Park Avenue. But at 7 p.m., the order window was pulled closed and a restaurant staffer announced that, due to curfew, the restaurant wasn’t accepting new orders and would close two hours earlier than usual. Over the next 45 minutes, as the last customers waited for their orders to be fulfilled, 10 people approached the restaurant to place orders, only to be turned away.

On Wednesday the ACLU of Northern California sent letters to the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Napa, as well as the cities of Palo Alto and San Francisco, in protest of the curfews. Later that evening, the ACLU of Southern California sued Los Angeles city and county and the city of San Bernardino to end the curfews. On Thursday morning, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the city of Los Angeles was lifting its curfew. Alameda County and the city of Oakland followed suit on Thursday afternoon, but cities elsewhere in the country, including New York and Atlanta, are still under curfew.

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“Curfews give police extra power to arrest and harass people exercising their First Amendment right to protest,” the ACLU of Northern California said via Twitter. “We’ve already seen too many times how over-policing leads to the brutalizing of black men and women.”


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