We won’t stop until Black lives matter
SocialistWorker.org rounds up recent protests against police violence from coast to coast, withreporting from New York City.
FROM THE moment news began to spread that the NYPD officer who strangled Eric Garner to death wouldn’t be indicted, thousands of New Yorkers began to gather to vent their outrage, touching off days of protest.
But it didn’t stop there. In Boston; in Boulder, Colorado; in Portland, Oregon; in Austin, Texas; in the Bay Area in California, and countless other cities, large numbers of people took to the streets, driven by disgust at the lack of accountability for lethal police violence against unarmed Black people.
Eric Garner was strangled to death on the streets of Staten Island in July, but the grand jury decision not to indict him came on the heels of the same outcome to the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson and out-of-control police violence everywhere. The powerful slogan “Black Lives Matter” hit close to home in every city of the U.S.
The size of these protests was striking, but so were the crowds themselves–diverse in every way, angrily defiant and often mobilizing day after day to send the message of no justice, no peace. Already, people are beginning to mobilize for two demonstrations this coming weekend in New York City and Washington D.C.
— In New York City, the response to the December 3 grand jury decision was immediate, and it was only possible to keep track of all the protests by tuning in to television news coverage of the many places that crowds gathered.
Within hours of the announcement, hundreds of protesters staged a “die-in” at Grand Central Station. Close to a thousand demonstrators found their way to Rockefeller Center, determined to disrupt the annual tree-lighting ceremony. Hundreds of protesters shut down the West Side Highway and FDR Drive, while others marched over the Brooklyn Bridge, snarling traffic in every direction.
This first round of protests was followed by even larger protests on December 4–activists had been planning for weeks to mobilize on the day following the grand jury decision if Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who killed Eric Garner, wasn’t indicted.
Peoples’ Justice organized a mass rally in Foley Square near City Hall. Some 10,000 New Yorkers showed up and again took the streets, bringing traffic in the city to a standstill for a second straight night. Constance Malcolm–the mother of Ramarley Graham, who was gunned down in his Bronx home by a police officer in 2012–was at the head of the main march standing alongside the mother of Mohamed Bah, also killed by New York City police after his family called for emergency services.
Chanting and carrying coffins with the names of scores of victims of police violence in New York City, thousands marched over the Brooklyn Bridge and eventually arrived at one of Brooklyn’s busiest intersections outside the Barclays Center, where the Brooklyn Nets play basketball. There, protesters staged a massive die-in, lying between the coffins.
Police soon blocked the way for those who still wanted to cross Brooklyn Bridge, but protesters were undeterred, and they continued crisscrossing the streets of Lower Manhattan. From there, a group of 150 marchers broke off to shut down the Holland Tunnel and stop traffic along the West Side Highway in both directions.
Meanwhile, in midtown Manhattan, hundreds of protesters occupied Herald Square, Grand Central Station and Times Square, staging die-ins at all three. Thousands of other demonstrators descended on the White Hall Ferry Terminal to board the Staten Island Ferry and join protests there. Police cars weaved through the Financial District trying to keep up with protesters and ultimately succeeded in blocking them from boarding the ferry.
Earlier in the day, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference, pledging to protect the rights of protesters to express their opinions from the heavy hand of police violence. Unsurprisingly, de Blasio’s rhetoric did not match reality. Protesters were met with clubs and pepper spray at 8th Avenue and 14th Street, while in Times Square, hundreds of demonstrators were faced with riot police, three police helicopters circling overhead and NYPD buses standing by to facilitate mass arrests.
By 10:15 p.m., NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton reported that at least 30 demonstrators had been arrested and promised more to come. “If they stop, lie down on the street or attempt to block traffic by forming chains, then we would make every effort to arrest them,” Bratton told CNN.
By the end of the second night, the NYPD reported a total of 200 arrests. One protester described to Democracy Now! the mistreatment by police:
Look at the cops. This is supposed to be a peaceful protest. Bill de Blasio said it himself: We could be out here and do what we want, as long as we are not doing any trouble. And look what’s going on. They’re pushing people. They’re hitting people, pushing them out the way, throwing them on the floor, arresting them for no apparent reason at all.
Still, on the third night, despite de Blasio’s broken promise and the ever-present threat of police abuse, the crowds of protesters came out again. Although their numbers were smaller, their impact was significant. Demonstrators marched along the south side of Central Park and staged a successful die-in at the Fifth Avenue Apple Store. They then marched on to stage more die-ins at the iconic Macy’s Department Store and Grand Central Station.
Again, demonstrators stopped traffic in Times Square and then marched to Bryant Park, where shop workers came out raising their hands in solidarity and cabbies waved in support. The evening ended with demonstrators staging a brief shutdown of FDR Drive and closing the Manhattan Bridge.
Along the way, protesters issued a set of demands calling for the firing of all the officers involved in the death of Eric Garner, the appointment of a special state prosecutor to investigate officers charged with excessive force, and a state law penalizing officers for using chokeholds. “No one ever got anywhere by giving up when it got tough,” said 22-year-old Chloe Dewberry. “I’m so enraged I don’t even notice [the cold rain].”
After days of protests, there’s no sign that the demonstrations will go away. Thousands more are expected to participate in a December 13 march in New York City–already, more than 25,000 people are confirmed on Facebook. We need an ongoing movement against police brutality that stands alongside the family of Eric Garner and the many other families demanding justice for their loved ones. The stakes are high, but the possibilities have never been greater.
In the words of Eric Garner’s widow Esaw Garner, “As long as I have a breath in my body, I will fight the fight until the end.”
— In Boston, more than 10,000 poured into the streets on the night of December 4, the day after the grand jury announcement that there would be no indictment in the Garner case. The main march grew so large that it split in two, shutting down large areas of the city. Earlier that day, more than 300 Emerson students marched through Boston. At a Fight For 15 action, all the workers abandoned their registers at a Burger King and chanted “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” when police entered the store.
Not only did protesters take over the Charlestown Bridge, but later that night, hundreds of protesters shut down the Red and Green MBTA lines and held a die-in at Park Street Station.
The last time anything close to this number of people attended a protest was more than a decade ago. Students, workers and families with babies marched and participated in die-ins at countless intersections. Tiffany, a Harvard student, described why so many people were out: “It’s a situation that’s been repeated over and over. Over time, people are learning why this happens. People have a clear conception of what this injustice is.”
Boston is one of the most segregated and racist cities in the country, yet this march was large and multiracial. That such a direct challenge to racism brought out more people than any other demonstration shows the power of the struggle against racism to mobilize all parts of society.
Protesters chanted, “Eric Garner, Mike Brown, shut this racist system down,” and “Same story every time, being black is not a crime!”
The next night, between 500 and 700 people marched from Tufts University to Kendall Square, closing down stops on the red line as they marched, with die-ins at Harvard Square and MIT, shutting down Massachusetts Avenue for the first time since the mass protests against the 2003 war on Iraq.
— In Portland, Oregon, 700 took to the streets for four-and-a-half hours led by a contingent of young Black people called Don’t Shoot Portland. The march took over the major shopping mall for a half hour.
— In Pittsburgh, the city was host to two significant rallies on December 4 that brought together fast-food workers demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage with activists against police brutality. About 200 people or so participated in the day’s actions, and in the early afternoon, people marched in the street and blocked traffic with die-ins at every major intersection as they made our way to the City County Building.
The following evening, some 500 people showed up in the rain in a public park near the campuses of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, and took over one of the busiest intersections in Pittsburgh. Student speakers led chants such as “Black lives matter!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” The police came but were outnumbered, and the protest was peaceful and ended without any confrontations.
— In Austin, Texas, there were multiple large protests. On December 4, there was a massive die-in on the University of Texas-Austin campus, with more than 500 students. Black students lay in the middle of one of the busiest intersections on campus, with non-Black allies kneeling around them and holding signs.
On December 5, there was a protest of 500 people at the Travis County Courthouse to demand justice for Larry Jackson, who was shot dead by Austin police in 2013. Justice for Larry Jackson has been a key campaign of the Austin ISO and a partner organization, the People’s Task Force. After the rally, at which Larry’s sister LaKiza spoke, there was a civil disobedience march throughout downtown Austin. Protesters blocked major roads in the entertainment district and streets near the Austin Police Department headquarters, and there was a die-in on Congress Bridge.
— In Boulder, Colorado, about 500 people gathered December 6 in front of the Boulder County Council Building to protest the murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and countless others by police. Organizers taught several different chants to the assembled, including one from South Africa used in the struggle against apartheid, and gave advice for interactions with police.
Holding signs with slogans such as “Black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe,” “End police brutality,” and “Break police-state chokehold,” the crowd marched along Pearl Street Mall. The protesters lay in the middle of the popular outdoor pedestrian mall for a four-and-a-half-minute die-in to symbolize the four-and-a-half hours that Michael Brown’s body lay in the streets after he was murdered by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson.
In total, protesters marched nearly six miles through major streets in downtown Boulder and engaged in half a dozen die-ins at major intersections. The group included everyone from children perched on shoulders to senior citizens and represented a far more ethnically diverse crowd than usually found in Boulder, which is 88 percent white.
Many cars stopped by people in the streets made gestures of solidarity, ranging from peace signs to rolling down their windows to give high fives and join in the chants. A few drivers and passersby shouted slurs, including “White is right!” and “Get out of the fucking way!” Another four-and-a-half-minute die-in is planned for December 8 at 5:30 p.m. to shut down Highway 36 at Colorado Avenue.
— In Washington, D.C., several marches took place on December 4, starting at the Department of Justice with chants of “Darren Wilson, you can’t hide, we charge you with homicide” and “I can’t breathe,” which were the last words of Eric Garner.
Between 200 and 300 people marched, shutting down intersections along Pennsylvania Avenue on the way to the White House’s national tree-lighting ceremony. At the entrance to the ceremony, there was a standoff with police and an unplanned die-in, after which another march connected with the first and started to the 14th Street Bridge and shut it down. “Who shuts shit down? We shut shit down,” came the chant from the large crowd now heading to the Metropolitan Police Headquarters, where hundreds more gathered for a night march.
In total, thousands came out on in D.C. to stand in solidarity with victims of the injustice system around the country and against this racist system.
— In Minneapolis, close to 200 protesters shut down I-35 in Minneapolis on December 4. A group demanding justice for Eric Garner and Mike Brown joined with striking Burger King workers demanding higher wages to hold a “Shut it down” march (#TCshutitdown). The march began outside a Burger King in South Minneapolis and ended downtown at Minneapolis City Hall.
Police blocked off the freeway as protesters entered, and a sheriff ordered the protesters to disperse, threatening that “the freeway will be opened.” The group responded by chanting “You can’t stop the revolution,” followed by chants of “Black lives matter” and “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” The march included several die-ins, with protesters lying in the middle of the freeway for four-and-a-half minutes in honor of every hour Michael Brown was left on the sidewalk.
— In Oakland, California, a young, multiracial crowd of 200 gathered December 4 at 14th Street and Broadway downtown and then marched toward the wealthy Rockridge neighborhood, where the protesters were blocked by a line of police.
“I’m out here because this happens every 28 hours, and we have got to take action,” said Jevon Cochran, a local activist against police brutality since the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant by a Bay Area Rapid Transit cop. “The most important thing is that this movement is creating an infrastructure. Young Black people didn’t have an infrastructure to plug in to, but now we have groups like the Dream Defenders and the Black Out Collective in Oakland.”
— In Madison, Wisconsin, 200 people marched through rush-hour traffic in the Penn Park neighborhood at a December 5 rally organized by the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition. Activists shut down the South Side’s main artery, South Park St., intermittently in both directions as they marched to the neighborhood police station on Badger Road.
There, protesters held a speak-out led by young women of color while others laid down under sheets with the names of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Mass Incarceration and other slogans. Although there have been no recent police killings in the neighborhood, daily police harassment is a regular feature of life for neighborhood residents.
The Young, Gifted and Black Coalition has raised several demands of city and county officials: no new jails, immediately release all prisoners for crimes of poverty, divert money earmarked for new jails for spending to lift up rather than lock up poor and Black communities. Dane County, where Madison is located, has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation. For example, 5 percent of Dane County residents are Black, but the population in its jails is 40 percent Black.
Activists have pledged to continue marching each week until their demands are met and will be assembling on December 9 at 4:30 p.m. outside the City-County Building at 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
— In Asheville, North Carolina, 100 protesters came to the courthouse for a die-in and speak-out session to demand justice for Eric Garner, justice for Mike Brown and an end to racist policing. Two days earlier, there was a large vigil downtown, and one day earlier, 200 people marched in solidarity at Warren Wilson College during the day and held another downtown vigil at night.
Dozens of student activists from University of North Carolina-Asheville (UNCA) and Warren Wilson attended the event. “There are too many Black lives lost,” said Warren Wilson student Delilah Scott, explaining that recent events had increased the sense of urgency she felt.
At one intersection, protesters chanted the words “I can’t breathe” 11 times in honor of Eric Garner, and with each repetition a number of the protesters fell to the ground until all were lying down. “We’re scared to be out here because we still can’t trust the police,” said Keith Knox, who kicked off the speak-out. “I am not pledging allegiance to America when it won’t pledge allegiance to me.”
— In Olympia, Washington, more than 200 people from all backgrounds marched through the streets on December 5, blocking intersections to get on and off the I-5 freeway from the State Capitol.
— In Potsdam, New York, activists at State University of New York-Potsdam held a December 5 die-in with 25 participating, an outdoor protest of 45 and a march of 65 that lasted four-and-a-half hours. The events brought together activists in solidarity with African American organizations on campus and SAGE (Student Activists for Gender Equality).