Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hands Up! Don’t Shoot! Ferguson Verdict March over the FDR

One of the signs that really struck me the first night of the Ferguson protests declared:

“Justice for Blank.   Left it blank.  Will probably need it next year.”  That really struck me.  When I first heard about Michael Brown’s death, that’s what I thought about – Amadou, Patrick Dorismond, Oscar Grant, Trevon, Rodney… The list of people killed, of young black men killed by the police, goes on and on and on.

So we marched.  With the verdict announced after 9 PM the night before, many missed the first night of Ferguson protests in New York when we peacefully marched through traffic up from 14th street, up though times square  to 125th street, many crossing and blocking the Triborough Bridge.   While there were skirmishes along the way, the event was largely peaceful.

the public space party - out waiting for the verdict on November 24th
photo by e mcgregor

The next day, the long planned for post verdict rally would take place. 

NYC November 25, 2014 Photo by the Gothamist. 

 I was running late after teaching my policy class.  We talked about the New Jim Crow and the historic racial and economic inequalities at the root of the protests.  History, including past grievances and pain, feels very alive, so does the unfinished business of those past and current wrongs.   We talked about the ways the Great Society Programs helped us reduce poverty in this country, down from 22% in 1959 to 12% a decade later at the end of those years.  The panics over race and crime and the War on Drugs followed, targeting communities of color, creating a pattern of mass incarceration fueling the New Jim Crow. My students wondered why police don't do more to try to de escalate and prevent confrontations.  Others asked about why they are not trained to handle things differently.  Some talked about the ways laws, such as Stand Your Ground, are written, and ways to frame things in more productive ways.

Several of us talked about the National Bar Association statement condemning the Grand Jury Decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown:  The National Bar Association is questioning how the Grand Jury, considering the evidence before them, could reach the conclusion that Darren Wilson should not be indicted and tried for the shooting death of Michael Brown. National Bar Association President Pamela J. Meanes expresses her sincere disappointment with the outcome of the Grand Jury’s decision but has made it abundantly clear that the National Bar Association stands firm and will be calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue federal charges against officer Darren Wilson. “We will not rest until Michael Brown and his family has justice” states Pamela Meanes, President of the National Bar Association. 
President Meanes is requesting that the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri not allow this decision to cause an unnecessary uproar in the community that could lead to arrests, injuries or even deaths of innocent people. “I am asking for everyone to remain as calm as possible and to join in solidarity as we continue to support the family of Michael Brown and put our legal plan into full effect” says President Meanes  “I feel the  magnitude of the grand jury’s ruling as Ferguson, Missouri is only minutes from where I reside”, adds President Meanes.
Over the last couple of months, the National Bar Association has  hosted Town Hall meetings informing  attendees of their Fourth Amendment (Search & Seizure) constitutional rights, whether it is legal to record police activity, and how citizens should behave/respond if and when they interface with police officers. “The death of Michael Brown was the last straw and the catalyst for addressing issues of inequality and racial bias in policing, the justice system, and violence against members of minority communities,” states Pamela Meanes.  

"We used to be a great society," Caroline noted.  "But boy we are blowing that with our polices on imagination and education.  We have to have to have ways to handle difference"  But there are ways to create a different world, a different city."

Riding over the Manhattan Bridge, I started getting cell phone messages that the march from Union Square had made its way to Houston Street.  And some had already taken over the LincolnTunnel. Where are you I texted. On Houston Street Keegan responded on the cell loop.  Where on Houston Street?  All of Houston Street.

Riding up I saw a huge crowd marching on Houston.  The Rude Mechanical Orchestra was playing. 

Hands UP! Don't Shoot! people were screaming. 

My friend Tibby was standing there smiling.  A veteran of decades of activism, she was smiling. 
“I can’t march anymore,” she explained, beaming.  “This is so wonderful.” 
“How long have you been marching?”
“I’ve been marching fifty years,” she beamed. “And I feel like I have been replaced.  This is so wonderful.”

I asked her about her first demonstration.
 “Back in 1961 and John F Kennedy was there.”

 Activists from all over New York were on the streets, friends from Occupy to Right of Way and Public Space Party, from the Trevon Martin Organizing Committee to the protests the night before.

Get up, get down, theres a revolution in this town.

Barbara texted me noting the bike bloc was on the FDR.  They had taken the FDR.  No one had done that since Critical Mass 2004 the month before the Republican National Convention.  And the city litigated against the ride  for years afterwards. But there we were again. 

Walking West, a group of police seemed to try to block the entrance.  Waves of people swarmed around them, between them, and made their way.

And we made our way to the freeway where we’d walk all the way to the United Nations. Along the way, we ran into more friends, talking about the verdict and past problems.  

A woman was screaming that the whole country should take notice.   Things had to change.  One step up, two steps back things had been going, but we were pushing forward.

“I’ve lost my screaming partner,” she noted looking around, for her friend twenty feet back.

“You’ve got about 10,000 of them with you here,” I responded.

“Can you believe this,” Keegan gushed looking around.  He had been pulled over twice by the police the night before, once on 27th street and later on the Triborough Bridge, and was still marching.  “Have you ever seen anything like this?”
“No” I replied, staring at people running down the FDR. 

People were parking  their cars on the other side, honking in solidarity, cheering for everyone. No one seemed to be mad.

“Indict the system,” declared one women as we walked. 

Keegan, Michel and I  rode and rode.  At one point we jumped off to ride away to ride away, jumping back on in a couple of blocks because it was too exciting.  A young man helped me pull my bike back onto the bridge and kept on marching all the way to the UN.

Speak out at the UN

Theres a lot to be angry about.  But there was also a lot to celebrate as we marched together. So many lovely people together, walking, screaming, and being alive, moving like a wave over the freeway, maybe crossing to a new place for this country and a new step in the civirights movement.  Martin Luther King was killed after he spoke out about the need for economic justice for striking workers in Memphis.  Echoing W. E. B. Du Bois, he suggested there was a different story which begins with race and economy justice overlapping with education and action to create a different world for Black folks and by extension everyone. "“The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression," he explainedThese protests represent a rightful extension of this narrative.

The cell loop noted people were blocking the Brooklyn Bridge and Williamsburg Bridges.  So we marched all night, never really sure what would come next. How will the system handle all this – no one was sure.  Things usually get back to the quiet business of the normal after such protests.  No one knows what will happen now.  Some are circulating petitions calling for justice for Mchael Brown; others are calling for different kinds of police training, a different kind of society which solves problems without guns.  But for a brief moment the streets were full of energy and promise and hope for a different kind of change, one that starts in the streets with bodes of people striving together.   

My friend Stacy Lanyon took a lovely series of photos of the March from Union Square onto the FDR. Take a look:

Stacy Lanyon photographs from her series

Justice for Mike Brown Verdict Rally & March,
November 25, 2014, FDR Drive
©Stacy Lanyon