From the January-February 2015 issue of News & Letters
Grassroots New York protests
New York—Entering historic Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village on Dec. 13, contingent after contingent chanted slogans demanding justice for Eric Garner and the end of police harassment in poor and working-class neighborhoods. The march of 30,000 was grassroots and unified.
Most people carried handmade signs expressing outrage at police murders of unarmed Black men and women in New York, as well as in Ferguson and other parts of the country. Signs reminded us that Eric Garner’s family and children would be having their first Christmas without their father.
‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’
One sign said, “De Blasio: You have blood on your hands.” Signs everywhere stated simply “Black Lives Matter” and “Ferguson.” That one word reminded people that this was much more than a New York problem.
Along the parade route were the ubiquitous NYPD metal barricades and hundreds of police officers in front of virtually every building in this upper-class neighborhood. Number One Fifth Avenue, an exclusive home to multimillionaires, had its own security. The march ended at Police Headquarters, where we were greeted by a line of cops in riot gear. Along the way we chanted “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police!” “Black Lives Matter!” and we called for the indictment of the cop who killed Eric Garner.
One of the most striking things about the march was its multiracial character—a large percentage of the protesters were young whites. They recognized the need to take a stand and did so. The outrage over the police killings has cut across race, age, and even class boundaries.
In the end people discovered we had the power to bring midtown Manhattan to a screeching halt, to unite around a common idea, take to the streets, and build a movement to fight police terror in the streets of America.
LA protests racist police kills
Los Angeles—Since Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed an unarmed Michael Brown on Aug. 9, Los Angeles activists have joined the many national protests against the racist killing of unarmed Black and Latino youths by police, in Los Angeles and throughout the country.
On Nov. 25, after a grand jury refused to indict Wilson, activists gathered at Leimert Park in the presence of the LAPD, who had closed Crenshaw Blvd. to auto traffic. A group marched up Crenshaw Blvd.—the beginning of almost daily protests. The following day, called by the Youth Justice Coalition, 1,000 people, including Blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians, and airport workers, gathered at the intersection of Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Blvd. to continue the protest, chanting “Hands Up Don’t Shoot!”
Signs read: “Michael Brown shot 6 times by Ferguson police,” “Justice for Ezell Ford,” “Stop Police Occupation of our Community,” “Criminal Justice System=State-Sponsored Lynching,” “Elected Civilian Police Review Board Now,” and “Revoke Police License to Kill.” After several minutes of silence for Michael Brown, we marched to Figueroa St. and engaged in civil disobedience, stopping traffic.
On Dec. 5, 300 to 500 gathered at LAPD headquarters for a press conference against police killing of unarmed Black and Brown youths. Speakers included local clergy and an organizer with Black Lives Matter. We then marched eight miles to where an unarmed Ezell Ford was murdered by two LAPD officers. Records show that since 2000, 599 people have been killed by law enforcement in LA. From 2007 to 2014, of the 324 killed, 32% were Black and Latino.
In one demonstration, over 1,000 protesters marched through downtown. When the protesters started to march toward the corporate area and South Park, which is being heavily gentrified, the LAPD declared the protest illegal. They arrested over 200, claiming they had ordered the group to disperse, which no protesters heard. In an attempt to intimidate the protesters, they were illegally jailed overnight with no charges filed against them.
On Dec. 27, over a thousand mostly young Black activists demonstrated non-violently in the affluent Westside. In the weeks that followed, a group occupied the sidewalk to urge LAPD chief Charles Beck to fire the two cops who killed Ford and stop police killings. He has refused to do so.
Oakland Millions March
Oakland, Cal.—Organizers of Oakland’s version of the Dec. 13 national Millions March called on Black marchers to move up front and also to take the mike during a rally on the steps of the Alameda County courthouse. They asked participants not to chant “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” or “I Can’t Breathe.” The theme was community healing, and they tried to avoid confrontation with authority.
On another day Black students from the University of California at Berkeley entered several restaurants frequented by whites in Oakland’s Rockridge district to read the names of Black and Brown men, women and children killed by cops. “Black Brunch” activists spent no more than ten minutes in each place. Customers and business owners were impressed. It was not at all like the raucous actions featuring white anarchists, some of whom turned out to be undercover police officers working as agents provocateurs.
NYC youth demand justice
New York—First there was Ferguson. A young Black man dead, and the killer cop walks. Then, as if to pour salt in the wound, the killer of New Yorker Eric Garner also walked free. The city exploded, not with violence, but with the rage of people who said, in the words of Garner, “This has got to stop!”
The grand jury decision was beyond belief. The whole world had seen the video of the cops killing Garner. The whole world knew the coroner had ruled it a homicide. But Staten Island is the borough in New York City where lots of cops live.
On Dec. 4, with no official leaders, people began marching from the Brooklyn Bridge, blocking traffic, defying the police to arrest them, which they did not. They only prevented people from taking control of the Bridge as Occupy Wall Street had done. People rallied in Union Square and marched to Times Square, which filled with protesters. On the same day, hundreds more filled Grand Central Station and held a “die-in” to protest the decision.
In the days that followed, youthful protesters, Black, white, Latino, Asian, united by outrage, partially shut down the Brooklyn Bridge and the West Side Highway, blocked tunnels connecting Manhattan and New Jersey and tried to flood the Staten Island ferry. Hundreds were arrested during “die-ins” at some of Manhattan’s busiest commercial intersections and transportation hubs. Demonstrators flooded into Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square, chanting “Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Shut It Down, Shut It Down!”
Snaking through Midtown, protesters stopped at the James A. Farley Post Office, then marched to the Times Square Toys “R” Us store holding signs including “Claim Humanity” and “Racism Kills.” Others chanted, “No Justice, No Christmas!”
Such leaderless, self-organized, media-savvy protests organized and directed by young people haven’t been seen by New Yorkers since Occupy Wall Street. They have tied up the city while official “leaders” have been holding press conferences. The youth are not interested in press conferences. They know the fight for justice will be in the streets.