My city stands with Mike Brown
SocialistWorker.org rounds up reports of protests around the U.S. after the decision of a St. Louis County grand jury not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
THE EYES of world were trained on Ferguson, Missouri, once again before the Thanksgiving holiday as people awaited the decision of a grand jury about whether to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed unarmed Black teenager Mike Brown in August.
When the decision came--no charges of any kind--it was long expected, but still a heavy blow. And people in cities around the country took their shared feelings of anger at another cop getting by with murder to the streets in protests.
In New York City, hundreds of people had gathered in Union Square in Manhattan before the announcement of the decision--but their numbers swelled as the demonstration marched across Manhattan into the early morning hours. One group of protesters held lit signs, one letter per person, spelling out the words that have become one of the movement's main slogans: "BLACK LIVES MATTER."
Protesters marched all over Manhattan the night of the verdict, stopping in Times Square, and then heading to Harlem, with chants of "Turn it up, don't turn it down. We're doing this for Michael Brown!" and "Same story every time--Being Black is not a crime."
"We're here to bring attention to the cops--enough is enough," said a protester named Julian. "We're tired of people being killed by cops and the state allows it to happen. We're here in solidarity with one another, from all different organizations, to show our conviction that Darren Wilson should pay for what he did."
The next day, the protests were even larger in New York, bringing together as many as 6,000 people. The crowd was multiracial, with young people of color especially well-represented--all turning out to Union Square to show their outrage at this miscarriage of justice.
The protests brought back the feeling of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations of 2011. Three or four groups of marchers took off in different directions from Union Square and then came back together at the end. Each of the marches took over major roadways--FDR Drive on the East Side, the West Side Highway and the Holland Tunnel connecting Manhattan to New Jersey.
Many protesters had their own stories of injustice and brutality to tell. William Wordsworth explained that he knew police violence firsthand. "My son was killed by police on October 8, 2011," he said.
Wordsworth's son, Agabus, was found in Coney Island Hospital in what the police claimed was a suicide. He died on October 8, but the authorities didn't complete a medical exam until the next day, and nobody contacted the family for two days.
Agabus' family sued the police for negligence, but the case was dismissed. They're appealing the decision. "He was my only son, 18 years old," said Wordsworth. "He was very, very smart. He had never been arrested."
Wordsworth is part of Families United for Justice, a group of family members with children killed by police that meets at the Mayday Space in Flatbush. "We're here for justice," Wordsworth said of the Monday night demonstration. "We want all the killer cops locked up."
A few days later, on Thursday, dozens of activists gathered for a protest during the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
In Chicago, some 350 people gathered as the grand jury decision was being announced. The protest at Chicago Police Headquarters on the South Side was called by We Charge Genocide, Black Youth Project (BYP) 100 and the Chicago Light Brigade.
After hearing of prosecutor Robert McCulloch's announcement that there would be no indictment, the demonstrators took to the streets. Amid chants of "Hands up, don't shoot" and "Get back, get back, we want freedom, freedom. All those dirty racist cops, we don't need them," the crowd surged onto Lake Shore Drive, the highway that runs along the city's lakefront. Many drivers whose cars were blocked by the marchers got out and joined in the chants or cheered the passing protesters.
As the crowd came north, it moved off Lake Shore Drive and wound through the downtown streets, with the numbers of marchers increasing all the time. After a brief speak-out at the State of Illinois Building and an attempt to take over a bridge along the Chicago River, which was thwarted by police, the crowd dispersed.
The next morning, BYP100 and their supporters held a press conference outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office to announce a sit-in for the next 28 hours--to dramatize the fact that a Black person is murdered by police, a security guard or a racist vigilante every 28 hours, according to the Malcolm X GrassrootsMovement. BYP100 member Charlene Carruthers called out the mayor, police superintendent and City Council for being complicit in violence against African Americans.
Throughout the day, about 300 people packed the fifth-floor lobby, which was transformed into an ongoing teach-in about racism, the prison industrial complex and the BYP100's "Agenda to Keep Us Safe" demands, which include citizen police review boards, decriminalization of drugs and police body cameras. Around lunchtime, 20 fifth- to eighth-graders came to take part, and one student spoke bravely about his personal experience with a relative being incarcerated.
During breaks in the teach-in, the marble walls echoed with chants connecting Mike Brown to other victims of the injustice system--Marissa Alexander, Tanisha Anderson, Mike Brown, Rekia Boyd and Dominique "Damo" Franklin.
After the building closed for the day, almost 100 people remained, prepared to risk arrest. Eventually, BYP100 decided to end the sit-in to save the action of arrest for a broader campaign. All the protesters chanted as they left the building to meet the crowd outside chanting in solidarity.
On Friday, 350 people gathered again at the Water Tower Plaza shopping mall in downtown Chicago. As a way to protest profits over people with police protecting private property and yet be careless over human life, the event was dubbed "Brown Friday: National Demonstration for Mike Brown." Protesters staged a die-in on the Magnificent Mile shopping district.
"They declared war on Black and Brown bodies, but protected retail and commerce," said one of the protest organizers, explaining why the busiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, was chosen. After a march to the Near Northwest Side neighborhood of Wicker Park, protesters headed to a Walmart store on the West Side to join the nationwide Black Friday protests organized by Walmart workers fighting for a living wage and a union.
In Oakland, California, protesters gathered outside Oscar Grant plaza downtown to await the grand jury's announcement on whether Darren Wilson would be indicted. When the news hit, hundreds of people took to the streets.
After blocking traffic in a central hub downtown, the crowd headed toward Interstate 580, chanting, "No justice! No peace!" Signs decrying racist police violence and showing solidarity with the community in Ferguson were prominent in the crowd.
"I'm here because I've lost faith in our judicial system," said one young woman, Deellan, about why she came out that night.
The protest had grown to about 500 people when it took the freeway, shutting down traffic on Interstate 580 for about an hour before police forced protesters back down the on-ramp. Drivers stuck in the traffic jam showed their support for the protesters, honking their horns along with the chants. Some drivers got out of their cars and shook protesters' hands.
After taking a second on-ramp and being forced off again, the protesters made their way back downtown before dispersing.
In Boston, a multiracial, multigenerational crowd of 3,000 people came together for a Tuesday protest of the grand jury decision that let off the cop who killed Mike Brown. Chants of "No justice, no peace, no racist police!" and "Black lives matter!" echoed through the streets for hours, from Roxbury to downtown Boston.
The march began with a rally outside Boston Police Department's Area B2 station in Roxbury. The names of Black men and women around the country who had been murdered by police were read out. Then demonstrators observed four-and-a-half minutes of silence in accordance with the request of Mike Brown's mother, as a symbol of the four-and-a-half hours that her son's body laid in the streets of Ferguson.
Daunasia Yancey, a member of Black Lives Matter Boston, started the speakout by talking about racism is built into the current system. "We can choose to dismantle this system that has never and will never work for us," Yancey said.
Protesters then began marching through Roxbury toward the South Bay House of Corrections. When the demonstration reached the prison, everyone sat down, closing off the street. While people outside chanted, "We see you! Black lives matter!" and "The new Jim Crow has got to go," prisoners inside flicked their room lights on and off in recognition of the protest--we could see them cheering through the windows. The words "Mike Brown" and "Fuck the police" could be seen written on jail cell windows.
There were attempts to block traffic on the Mass Turnpike and Interstate 93, but they were met with violent force from police, who arrested scores of people. "I obtained my injuries from a police officer kneeing my face into the concrete, yanking my earring out, doing something to the side of my body," said Tripp Diaz, who was part of a crowd stopped by a wall of police at the Mass Turnpike near Copley Square. "I have a bite mark on my arm--I don't know where that came from," she told the Boston Herald.
The protest continued late into the night, with hundreds of people continuing on into downtown Boson. The demonstration ended at Dewey Square, the park that was taken over during the Occupy movement.
In Seattle, more than 2,000 people came out on the Tuesday after the grand jury decision to say loud and clear: "Black lives matter!"
Organized by the local NAACP chapter and the United Black Christian Clergy, they marched from Central District, a historically Black neighborhood, to the federal courthouse in downtown Seattle. A majority of the marchers were high school students, including several hundred from Garfield High School and Nova High School. The march stopped along the way to block intersections and chant.
There were several more speakers at the courthouse, including Gerald Hankerson of the NAACP and Kshama Sawant, the socialist member of the Seattle City Council.
That same day, 250 students walked out of Roosevelt High School. They joined a rally for justice for Mike Brown on the University of Washington campus organized by students. In the afternoon, UW students held another rally and marched throughout the campus, before holding a speak-out in the student union building.
On Friday, several hundred people marched through the downtown streets and blocked traffic for several hours in a protest against the Ferguson grand jury decision. When police tried to prevent the demonstration from reaching downtown Seattle, protesters broke up and went in separate small groups. They reassembled in the downtown shopping area to protest during the X-mas tree lighting ceremony, which focused the thousands of people assembled on winning justice for Mike Brown.
Two days later, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. spoke to a meeting of more than 200 people, talking about Ferguson and racism today. "The shooting started before the looting," Jackson said. "Before the stores got looted in Ferguson, the banks looted the Black community. They stole our homes with predatory loans. They stole our jobs. The banks got bailed out, and people got left out."
In Portland, Oregon, as many as 3,000 people turned out to Portland's emergency demonstration in solidarity with Ferguson on the day after the grand jury decision was announced.
It was one of the most energized protests in recent years, bringing to mind the marches during the heyday of the Occupy movement three years ago. Among those who turned out, there was bitter frustration at the continued systemic injustice and police terrorism facing Black and Brown communities, which is symbolized by Darren Wilson going free.
As people gathered for a rally in front of Portland's misnamed Justice Center, the more moderate speakers who talked about finding ways to work through regular political channels game way to more fired-up speeches that made the connections between capitalist exploitation, white supremacy and imperialism.
For example, speaker Wael Elasady talked about how the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the ongoing siege and last summer's massacre of Gaza were tied to the epidemic of police shootings of African Americans--something made clear this summer when the protests in the streets of Ferguson against the killing of Mike Brown reflected the same spirit of resistance of the protests against the war on Gaza.
The protest then took off through Portland's streets and the heart of downtown. "Ferguson represented the most sustained periods of Black struggle we've seen since the 1960s," said one marcher. "I'm here because I want to play my part in the new civil rights movement."
On Saturday, about 250 people came to an 11 a.m. rally organized by the newly formed group Community for Equity. The crowd marched 30 blocks from Wilshire Park to Alberta and MLK. The demonstrators were quiet at first, but eventually, chants of "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" were taken up enthusiastically.
In Atlanta, there were walkouts of more than 1,000 students at historically Black colleges in the area, followed by a demonstration of more than 2,000 people who gathered at the Underground Atlanta complex downtown. An impromptu match through the streets of downtown succeeded in blockading traffics at several points, including on a left major six-lane connector highway
"This huge turnout makes me feel less alone," said protester Christian Kaiser. "Like maybe if we just keep up the pressure, someday we'll see justice."
In Philadelphia, more than 1,000 people came out to protest the day after the Ferguson grand jury decision. Protesters marched from City Hall up Broad Street to Temple University, where there were hundreds of students awaiting their arrival. The march took over an intersection, which was lined by several hundred police, with four helicopters hovering overhead.
For an hour, the multiracial, mostly young crowd listened to speakers and broke out into chants. The protest than marched through an African American neighborhood toward a police station where two people were being held for walking onto a freeway ramp during a protest of several hundred the night before, after the grand jury decision was announced. After holding a speak-out that lasted for more than two hours, the two were released.
Earlier in the day, a student at Constitution High School won the support of the principal and teachers for a protest march from the school to the Liberty Bell. The 250-strong demonstration represented about two-thirds of the school's students. "This could happen to anyone," said junior Keira Robinson. "Everybody needs to know what's been happening, from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin. No person should go through this."
In Minneapolis, more than 1,000 people gathered to march and shut down Highway 55 during rush hour, on the day after the grand jury decision was announced in Ferguson.
The demonstration began with a rally at the Minneapolis Police Department building, before taking the on-ramp onto the highway. The march continued through the largely Somali neighborhood of West Bank and stopped for a brief rally at Augsburg College to support students organizing on campus, before returning to the police station to stage a mass die-in.
The protest was marred by a violent attack. The initial rally at police headquarters grew to the point that it was necessary to take over the intersection and block traffic. Cars were stopped and began turning around--all except for one, whose driver pulled out around the others, tried to push his way through the crowd, and eventually just gunned it. The car knocked several people out of the way and pinned one woman underneath--she was dragged for several feet until the crowd forced the driver to stop and pulled the woman free. Miraculously, she suffered only minor injuries, according to news reports.
The driver then took off before calling 911. When police arrived, he was reportedly questioned, but not arrested and has yet to be charged.
The fact that the Minneapolis Police Department has still--as this report was written--not arrested or charged the driver underscores the degree of dehumanization and brutality that is perpetuated by a social system that is racist to its core. When the Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, it sent a message, not just to police but to every racist, that there will be no consequence for their brutality.
In Austin, Texas, more than 500 people came out the night after the grand jury announcement for a protest at Austin Police Department headquarters, followed by a march to the Texas state Capitol building and a speak-out there. The crowd was younger, multiracial and visibly upset.
Members of the ISO connected the killing of Mike Brown to the case of Larry Jackson, an unarmed African American man who was shot dead by an Austin cop in the summer of 2013. Activists are organizing rallies to push for the officer to be put on trial--something the district attorney is delaying, having already gotten an indictment against the cop for manslaughter.
In Rochester, New York, hundreds of activists took part in demonstrations across the city to express their outrage at the decision not to indict Darren Wilson.
Three actions at two college campuses and on Main Street downtown took place simultaneously. There were "die-ins" that blocked traffic at two of the demonstrations, lasting for four-and-a-half minutes each, one for each hour that Mike Brown's body was left out in the street.
About 150 protesters at University of Rochester marched through campus, chanting as they went through dorms and the dining hall. Along the way, the demonstrators were joined by other students, faculty and staff, doubling their numbers by the end.
In downtown Rochester, activists staged two banner drops on a major highway that runs through the heart of the city. The die-in blocked two of the city's busiest intersections, blocking traffic far enough back that police closed down most of Main Street.
Meanwhile, at the Rochester Institute of Technology campus, 100 students gathered to hold a silent vigil that turned into a speak-out and a two-hour impromptu discussion on police brutality and the role of the police in society, consumer activism, the necessity of education and voting, and what can be done to combat racism. Protests remained energetic well into the evening.
Earlier on Tuesday, at a press conference at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church, Rev. Lewis Stewart, president of the United Christian Leadership Ministry, said: "Back in the hot summer of 1919, Black people were constantly being lynched. Well, this is a new century, and Black people are constantly being lynched. But the lynching is not being done by people with white hoods and white sheets--it's being done by people in blue uniforms.
In Spring Valley, New York, north of New York City, nearly 100 people assembled in Memorial Park on Tuesday, November 25, to protest police violence, and to stand in solidarity with Mike Brown and those struggling in Ferguson, Pa.
The protest brought together activists from around the area, as well as victims of police brutality, including someone whose son died while in the custody of local police. The angry mood of the crowd was clear from chants like: "Protect and serve? That's a lie, you don't care when Black kids die!"
The demonstration began with a speak-out and continued with protesters voting to march out of the park and up Main Street, all the way holding their hands over their heads and chanting: "Hands up, don't shoot!" Oliver Timmons, one of the organizers of the event and a victim himself of racial profiling by local police, told the crowd: "We need a sustained effort against the powers that be--to let them know that this is intolerable--this is not going to continue to happen."