A rundown of the early protesting in 2015 of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in NYC, from counter-protesting to miles long marches, where is New York City and America heading in the fight against police brutality?
The first time I went to a protest, which feels like eons ago, I got lost on the subway and showed up 30 minutes late. Walking up to the crowd that was beginning to form my hands became ice cold, it was December 19, 2014 and my gloves barely kept me warm, however the people around me were buzzing so much I hardly noticed. I could only look out at the other crowd that had merged, people who came for an event created by a #BlueLivesMatter group, a Pro-Cop rally that we were counter-protesting who in turn were looking right back at me. At the same time, only blocks away from the Pro-Cop rally, was the family of eighteen-year old Ramarley Graham demanding that the Department of Justice convene a grand jury hearing for his case.
The police were setting up barriers, to enclose us from the roads and kept a fine line separating us like gate, they looked almost like statues as our side huddled against each other holding signs and singing chants. Between the two barriers that separated us was a gap, which filled quickly with police officers and reporters who shined lights in our faces, as each side faced off against each other. We were there for those we had lost to police brutality; Eric Garner from Staten Island, Mike Brown from Ferguson, and the countless others we have lost over the course of 2014 and previous years. The other side however were there to support those police officer that killed them, and it showed when Pro-Cop protesters arrived in shirts that said “I Can Breathe”, a direct insult to Eric Garner’s last words as Daniel Pantaleo and other NYPD officers held him down into the concrete.
As the Night progressed the crowds gathered against the barricades and became louder and more intense, As the night got colder I started to give away the clothes on my back to people; my gloves to a young man holding a sign, my scarf to a women who had dashed into the Pro-Cop side to take photos, the hand warmers in my pockets to a couple who stood on a fence to get a better look, we were starting to reaching single degree temperatures.
I brought Dunkin' Donuts over to what was left of the group and shared some tired smiles watched as the Pro-Cop side was yelling “USA! USA! USA!” at reporters, one of the organizers explained to me that a huge part of the group had started to march and before she even finished speaking they came around the corner, I hadn’t realized how big our side had gotten until I saw them walking by us yelling chants. I followed them, weighted down by two huge boxes of hot chocolate and coffee, sprinting alongside of them pouring cups whenever I could manage. I passed the box throughout the crowd, people paused only a moment to drink right out boxes and then marched on, handing it right off to the next person. I linked arms with other protesters as we held down the Manhattan Bridge together, jumping over concrete barricades to out-run the cops, yelling so loud I couldn’t speak the next day.
The feeling of comradery among the protesters had started much earlier on in 2014, After Mike Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson, as protestors faced the cold months of winter to demand justice from the police force and the courts. From early mornings at the police station greeting those who were arrested at the actions as they were released, to late nights in the freezing cold winters marching together, the Black Lives Matter movement has been a steady pulse of support and progressiveness to the communities in New York and around the US. A true showing of heroism being the actions and rallies that happened during Christmas time, New York’s busiest and most commercial time of the year, where groups march for hours to gain support for those lost to police brutality.
One such protest would be December 23, the day before Christmas Eve, where New York saw a protest large enough to shut down the streets from 59th street to Central Harlem. After Mayor Bill De Blasio had asked to suspend protesting until after the funerals for the Brooklyn NYPD officers were finished, protestors organized together and demanded respect for those who they had lost also, asking the mayor directly why they had to stop everything for the police officers and yet the police refused to stop killing unarmed African Americans.
Protestors demanded that those whose lives have been lost to police brutality should not be forgotten over the holiday season, that families who had lost their loved ones to the police deserve love and support and not left behind during the commercial seasons. Shouting chants of the names of those lost to police brutality, people can to their windows and shouted with them to support those who were brave enough to stand in the streets, giving a boost to the voices of those around them.
I remember during that march, that while I helping hold the Black Lives Matter banner that has been used constantly in all protesting around New York, that a woman holding shopping bags and wearing high heels grabbed the banner next to me and helped carry it for 20 blocks. She had told me that seeing the protesting, seeing the out pour of people seeking respect for the families, she had abandoned her Christmas shopping and joined the march. Even on unstable ground she marched with us, running alongside of me as we protected the banner from being confiscated by police officers, there was no fear in her face.
These early actions congregated whenever they could; every night in Grand Central station protestors would hold the names of those lost and sing songs until it closed, Eric Garner’s daughter Erica would hold a march and vigil for her father in Staten Island holding flowers and demanding that the NYPD be investigated after the officers involved were not indicted, Peoples Power Associations faithfully held meetings every Friday to organize and bring new ideas to the actions.
Comparatively, in the present time America has seen both leaps in progress for the movement, and a rise in violent retaliation, during the past year. In Ferguson, where Mike Brown was killed, Police forces increased and brought tear gas and pepper spray to the community; even those who were not involved had a large risk of being harmed by the police force. In more recent events protestors in Ferguson have rallied around the anniversary of Michael Browns death, whereas two people have been reported to be shot and killed by Police officers, for an entire year they have been the loudest voice in the fight against Police brutality. This has not been the first time that protestors had clashed with police, being arrested for protesting has become a reality for many participants, it is also not the first nor the last time these protests have ended in violence.
On April 18, 2015 protesting in Baltimore Maryland began after the news that Freddie Gray, a twenty-five-year-old African American man, had passed away after he had received several life threatening injuries by police officers. These protests continued for six nights, and while tensions rose between police and protestors, many of the protests during that time were peaceful. Later on these tensions rose and on April 25, violence had escalated after police forces had blockaded the streets near by Frederick Douglas High School leaving thousands of high school students without any means to get home or leave the area. According to eyewitness reports. Baltimore police de-boarded all buses going through the area, shut down the nearby Mondawmin Metro station and cordoned off the area around the mall. Eyewitnesses saw police were suspiciously accosting all students, who were detained in that general area. The police, in full riot gear, detained the students for a full half-hour before the first brick was thrown.
After the first brick was thrown, tensions finally broke after the police responded to the students by throwing rocks and bricks back, and riots ensued in the next few hours. At least 34 people were arrested during the riots, and six police officers were injured. News reporters were also considered by the police to be a part of the riot, J.M. Giordano, a photographer for Baltimore City Paper, was taking pictures of the protest when he was "swarmed" and beaten by two police officers in riot gear. On May 1, several weeks after the riots and subsequent clean up, the six police officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death and life threatening injuries had criminal charges placed against them after Gray’s death was ruled a homicide.
Though no matter how drastically violent the response has been to these protestors, and to the African-American community after these issues have been brought to the surface, there is a feeling of hope among protestors and citizens alike. With the passing of civil rights activist Julian Bond, well known for being the chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, people look now more than ever at the Black Lives Matter movement and its relation to the earlier Civil Rights movement. Many consider Black Lives Matter to be inspired by the previous civil rights movement, even though there are some differences to their tactics since the improvement of technology, however the current movement is not an evolution or a shadow of it predecessor; it is an extension of the Civil Rights Movement brought into the modern times.
A defining moment for this present day would be the Millions March, which took place earlier on December on the 13, 2014 whereas an estimated that 30,000 demonstrators participated in the march that spanned over the course of the day in New York City. Taking the streets by storm, thousands of people demanded that America look at its issue of police brutality. They held hope of a brighter future, that the upcoming year would grant them something many have been looking for a long time, they hoped for justice to be served and the police forces would be criticized for their previous and present actions.
Thousands of people demonstrated to America that the new generation will not look away from the brutality that many people of color face, that racism will not be swept under the rug in in the face of real justice. Arm in arm they had proven to those around them that the time is now, that the fight for these victims is a fight to stop having these victims of police brutality, that the next generation does not have to walk out into the streets as our generation has for justice; they would of already had it.
As others look to the past, the Black Lives Matter movement looks towards the future, as loud as they are protesting the violent police; they are louder in their call for education, support, and further discussion on the topic of racism and police brutality. The movement is in it starting stages, so mistakes can be made, but the Black Lives Matter movement has something directly in common with the movements in the past; they have a whole lot of love and a whole lot of heart.