Hundreds of protesters hit the streets of New York City, along with cities across the United States and overseas, for multiple actions on August 9 in memory of Michael Brown, who was killed one year ago in Ferguson, Missouri by police Officer Darren Wilson.
Brown’s death at the hands of Wilson last year sparked riots, protests and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement.
To commemorate the death of Brown, multiple U.S. cities, including the town of Ferguson itself, held rallies and marches. Activists in New York City held three separate actions, ensuring that streets from downtown Brooklyn up to the Bronx would see protesters taking them over. And in addition to remembering Brown and the town of Ferguson, the protesters used the occasion to draw attention to the city’s police problems and other incidents of police violence against people of color since Brown’s death.
“This protest will not only remember Michael Brown, but will demand an end to the racist police terror that the black and brown communities face each day, as well as salute the brave uprising that moved many into action,” the Peoples Power Assemblies, one of the groups that helped organize an action in Brooklyn, said in a statement. “The demand to an end of police terror will include an immediate stop to the daily brutality and deaths at the hands of police — whether at traffic stops, during broken windows harassment or in jail cells.”
New York City’s first action, put together by multiple activist groups collectively known as the Black Summer Coalition, was held in Brooklyn at 12 p.m. in front of the Barclays Center. Two large banners reading “Stop Killing Black People” and “Black Lives Matter” were held as various speakers addressed the crowd.
Anita Neal, the mother of Kyam Livingston who died in a Brooklyn jail cell in 2013, held a sign with Sandra Bland’s face on it and addressed the crowd about women of color who have died in police custody. Other speakers spoke about Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton’s policing policies and the major news outlets’ reluctance to cover many other protests that have happened in New York City. After a die-in and a 4.5 minute moment of silence, hundreds of protesters took over the streets of Brooklyn chanting and marching towards a nearby courthouse, while shutting down traffic along the way. Two people were arrested during the Brooklyn action (including the writer of this piece).
After arriving at the Brooklyn courthouse, many of the protesters then hopped on the subway and made their way to Harlem for the second action of the day. The Harlem march was organized by copwatcher Jose LaSalle and the Copwatch Patrol Unit, or CPU, along with other groups that emphasized the importance of people filming the police and documenting any brutality they witness.
“Some of these stop-and-frisks that [the NYPD] is still doing, the only documentation that exists is the one that CPU has, and we send it to everybody,” LaSalle said to the crowd in Harlem. “We send it to whoever, everybody and their mother, so they can see what we see. And that’s what we have to continue to do.”
Other speakers, like Shannon Jones of Why Accountability, echoed the need for filming the police and emphasized that superficial attempts at placating communities of color are not the kind of change they want.
“Remember the NYPD is not a social justice group. They are not a social service provider. I don’t care how many times you see the NYPD doing the Nae-Nae with your children,” Jones said, referring to a recent viral video showing an NYPD officer doing the popular dance with some kids. “They will lock up your child. They will arrest your child. They will criminalize your child. They will disrespect your child and come out here and do the Nae-Nae on you.”
After the speakers were done, the protesters then took the streets of Harlem and marched uptown towards the Bronx. The NYPD had a heavy presence, but had little luck keeping protesters on the sidewalk. Once they reached the Bronx, the marchers held a speakout at 149th Street and Third Avenue. The NYPD continued trying to keep protesters on the sidewalk, which led to the protesters continuing their march, while being cheered and joined by onlooking Bronxites at various points. They passed by the Horizon Juvenile Center, where many young people who are arrested get detained, and then made their way to the front of the NYPD’s 42nd Precinct building. Once there, police called in NYPD Captain Andrew Lombardo — known for his brutal tactics against Occupy Wall Street — and the infamous “Strategic Response Group,” who then brutally began repressing the march. There was even an NYPD helicopter hovering above the marchers.
More arrests were made, including LaSalle himself, with the seemingly-obvious goal of arresting organizers and crowd leaders in order to strike fear into other protesters. Some marchers left and made their way to Union Square for the final action of the day. Many others kept marching in the Bronx despite the Strategic Response Group’s tough tactics.
The rally in Union Square, organized by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, was smaller and quieter than the two other marches, with only about 100 people in attendance. Various speakers, many of them parents who had lost children to police violence, talked about the need to drastically change the criminal justice system and hold police accountable for their violence.
Meanwhile, the protests in Ferguson were well-attended, with doves released and a silent march through the town led by Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., that began at the spot where Brown was killed and ended with a church service. Violence broke out later in the night with arrests being made and gunshots being fired by police and protesters. Protests in other cities were peaceful with activists using the occasion to remember the incident that started a new movement, as well as to re-state to the public and to the authorities that the protests will not cease until there is justice for Brown and all victims of police violence.
“We’ve been doing this for 13 months and we will not stop. That’s our message to the mayor,” Jones said before the march in Brooklyn. “And as we celebrate and commemorate the ending of the complacency, the ending of the ignorance, the ending of the get-down, we’re standing up and rising up. And it will not stop.”