We are all watching Ferguson

August 25, 2014

Elizabeth Schulte rounds up solidarity reports from actions across the country.

THE SHOOTING of unarmed teenager Mike Brown and the violent police repression that followed caused shock waves across the country--but also solidarity, as people who had never heard of Ferguson, Mo., before organized protests and vigils to demand justice.

Within days of the death of the unarmed teenager, who was shot at least six times and then left lying in the street for four hours, there were calls for action to demand justice--not only from activists around the issue of police violence, but people who simply heard about the murder and wanted to take a stand.

A call made largely through social media for people to gather for a National Moment of Silence, or #NMOS14, on August 14, was quickly picked up across the country. Events sprung up in more than 100 cities, from Denver to Little Rock to Chicago and New York City.

A few days later, more events were held after activists in the St. Louis area called for actions in support of Mike Brown and for an end to police and extrajudicial killings everywhere on August 16. Organizers urged protesters to link the killings of Mike Brown with other victims of racist murder, including Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride and Amadou Diallo.

Washington, D.C., stands with the people fighting for justice in Ferguson
Washington, D.C., stands with the people fighting for justice in Ferguson (Elvert Barnes)

In Ferguson that day, Rev. Jesse Jackson led a march attended by clergy members, activists from Veterans for Peace, Fight for 15 members and area residents. In several cities where actions were called, local Palestinian solidarity groups also helped build the protests, drawing the links between the occupation of Gaza and the occupation of Ferguson.

But protests weren't limited to official calls to action. In many places, demonstrations were organized quickly by groups and individuals in those cities, matching the urgency of the demand for justice for Mike Brown and for an end to harassment and brutality of police carrying out a crackdown in Ferguson. Just about everywhere, "Hands up, don't shoot!" was the most popular chant, as protesters raised their hands above their heads.

In New York City, protests sprung up around the city in response to the National Moment of Silence call, with vigils in Union Square and Harlem.

The Harlem vigil, which drew more than 500 mostly Black residents, was held just a block away from where the NYPD had conducted the biggest "gang" raid in New York City history, arresting scores of Black teenagers in the housing projects. Many of the people attending the vigil have also been involved in organizing around the NYPD raid.

The Union Square vigil grew to more than 1,000 people and marched to Times Square, where it shut down much of the area for several hours. This was reminiscent of the demonstrations during Occupy Wall Street and again after Trayvon Martin's death, when protesters marched throughout Manhattan, swelling in numbers and eventually reaching a critical mass that allowed them to take over Times Square and organize speak-outs.

Also during the week, there was a demonstration and press conference of several hundred held by Ramarley Graham's parents and supporters. Graham was shot in his own home by police--after an indictment against the officer was thrown out, his parents have been calling for a federal investigation into their son's death. In the wake of the police murders of Eric Garner and Mike Brown--and in response to the demonstration--the Justice Department finally made contact with the Grahams on August 21.

Plus, on August 23, when hundreds of New Yorkers took to the streets to protest of the police murder of Eric Garner, Mike Brown was on the minds of many marchers, including many fighting for their own loved ones who have been terrorized by the NYPD.

"The only difference between Mike Brown and Kyle Howell is that Kyle isn't dead," said Maria Bembridge, "but they sure tried to kill him." Howell was severely beaten by Nassau County police on April 25. She said that when one of the police officers was finally indicted, 500 police officers protested on the court steps in support of the officer.

In Boston, more than 1,000 people gathered the National Moment of Silence on August 14 at Bston Common, where they held a speak-out in which people described their personal experiences with racism and police brutality.

The next day, 40 people rallied in Roxbury, Mass., for another speak-out. On Saturday, more than 300 people came out to Copley Square and marched to the Boston Police Headquarters in Roxbury.

Carla Sheffield, who lost her son to police violence in 2012, said:

I am here because my son was shot by the Boston Police Department on August 21, 2012, in what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop. The officer has now been cleared for what he did. But my thing is this--just because you wear blue doesn't mean you don't lie. I work hard, I went to school, I got my masters in criminal justice. I did what you told me to do, and you still took my son.

Protesters also highlighted the case of DJ Henry, a Pace University student from the Boson area who was murdered by police in Mount Pleasant, N.Y., on October 17, 2010.

In Chicago, hundreds of people turned out in Daley Plaza after they heard about the Moment of Silence protest on August 14, largely through social media. People listened to a speak-out that included members of the Black Youth Project 100--attendees shared their experiences being harassed and humiliated by the police.

After marching around the plaza several times, marchers stepped into the streets and went on an unplanned march through downtown traffic, chanting, "Black lives matter!" "No justice, no peace!" and "Hands up, don't shoot!" Several drivers who were stuck in traffic amid the protesters held their hands up in their cars.

"My last name is Brown," said one protester. He pointed to his friend: "His name is Brown, too. This could happen to anybody."

On Saturday, protesters returned to Daley Plaza for another gathering of some 300, which was cosponsored by the Students for Justice in Palestine.

In Oakland, Calif., more than 200 people gathered for a moment of silence for Mike Brown on August 14. Many wore red armbands and some held candles, while others carried signs bearing the names of Mike Brown and other young men of color murdered by local police, including Alan Blueford, Alex Nieto and Andy Lopez.

The demonstration was held in front of City Hall in a plaza that was renamed after Oscar Grant by Occupy Oakland demonstrators in 2011. Grant was yet another young man of color murdered by local police--his story was recently memorialized in the award-winning film Fruitvale Station.

Jeralynn Blueford, mother of Alan Blueford, was first to speak after the moment of silence. "This is not 'protect and serve'--this is shoot to kill," she said. "I can't get my Alan back, but I can stand up to say, 'I'm not going to take it anymore.' I'm a mother of action, and it's time to take action."

The next night, more than 100 people marched through the streets of Oakland and Berkeley and on the campus of UC Berkeley, with some protesters setting off fireworks and clashing with police.

Some 400 people rallied in Macgregor Park in Houston for the National Moment of Silence, with the speak-out continuing for three hours as young and old, men and women, told their stories of police brutality. A number of speakers pointed out the special role of Black feminists in organizing #NMOS14 events across the country.

In New Haven, Conn., a diverse crowd of 150 people gathered in front of City Hall on August 14 for a "New Haven Stands With Ferguson" demonstration. Speakers drew connections between the militarization of police departments and expressed solidarity with the racist occupation of Palestine. Additional vigils and rallies took place throughout the state over following weekend, including one planned in part by Teamster members who work at UPS. Students at Yale University's School of Art organized a march on August 19.

AROUND THE country, all eyes are focused on Ferguson to make sure that justice is done.

Inside Ferguson, organizing continues, as area activists will join Mike Brown's family and friends on August 25 to attend a public memorial service, officiated by Rev. Al Sharpton. Activists have also been circulating petitions to demand the indictment of the officer who shot Brown, and collecting donations to help the Brown's family pay for funeral expenses and legal representation.

Supporters also organized donations and supplies to help residents of Ferguson, who have struggled to get food and other supplies as they are forced to live under a virtual occupation by law enforcement.

Members of the Organization for Black Struggle and Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment promise to continue protests, including the call for a national walkout of college students on Monday, if their demands aren't met. A list of demands include:

1. A swift and impartial investigation by the Department of Justice into the Mike Brown shooting, and expanded DOJ investigation into civil rights violations across North St. Louis County.

2. The immediate arrest of Officer Darren Wilson.

3. County prosecutor Bob McCulloch to stand down and allow a special prosecutor to be appointed.

4. The firing of Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

5. Accountability for police practices and policies, including effective civilian review of shootings and allegations of misconduct.

6. The immediate de-escalation of militarized policing of protestors to protect constitutional rights.

7. The immediate release of individuals who have been arrested while attending a protest.

A call has also been made for supporters to travel to Ferguson on Labor Day weekend for what organizers are calling a "Black Life Matters" Ride.

The Dream Defenders, which formed after the murder of Trayvon Martin, is encouraging young people to gather at the offices of their local U.S. attorneys to demand an end to police violence against unarmed civilians.

Head officers in the American Postal Workers Union urged members and locals to show solidarity with the protests in Ferguson and oppose the response of Ferguson police. They issued a statement that read in part:

Unions stand for good living-wage jobs for all workers, respect for and equality of all people, and justice in the workplace and in the neighborhoods in which we live. As postal workers, we live and work in every community across the nation, including Ferguson...Martin Luther King put it so well when he said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

They hope that other trade union members will join them in similar calls.

Amanda Achin, Gary Lapon, Jamie Partridge, Jennifer Roesch, Alex Schmaus, Michael Schwartz, Kimberly Smart and Mateo de la Torre contributed to this article.

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