Vigils and demonstrations involving thousands took place the evening of Thursday, Aug. 14, in at least 90 cities across the United States to protest the police killing of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Mo. Organized quickly on social media, the somber and angry gatherings included a moment of silence for Brown at 7:20 p.m. Eastern time. Other demonstrations against the racist killing and in solidarity with the ongoing rebellion of the African-American community in Ferguson have taken place before and since.
Messages like “Black lives matter” and “Hands up, don’t shoot” have been seen in many photos posted on social media. Justice has also been demanded for others whose lives have been snuffed out at the hands of racist cops, like Eric Garner of Staten Island, N.Y.; John Crawford of Beavercreek, Ohio; and Ezell Ford of Los Angeles, along with dozens of others across the U.S. Below is a sampling of some of the protests.
Some 400 people gathered in Durham, N.C., in front of the Old Durham Courthouse Aug. 14 to protest the lack of justice and systematic disenfranchisement of oppressed people. The assembly in Durham was intentionally led by militant Black youth. In addition to police brutality, racial profiling and state-sponsored violence, organizers also stressed the importance of connecting local and international struggles, particularly what’s happening in Gaza.
A formal remembrance of the victims of police terrorism was conducted with an official libation ceremony, accompanied by revolutionary poetry and traditional African drums. From this assembly, a new organization was formed called “Black Everything” to ensure the continued pursuit of justice, particularly among Black youth. There was also a call for Black pride and for dismantling the white-supremacist power structure. Art and culture were highlighted as critical forms of expression and communication among oppressed communities.
A crowd of several hundred gathered Aug. 14 at the Old Courthouse Square in Decatur, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. Dozens of people spoke, some recounting their own close calls with police. Although predominantly Black and young, the gathering was multinational and multigenerational, including families with young children and older folks, all united in solidarity with the need to end police violence. Candles were lit at dusk. At the end, a number of people marched in the streets of downtown Decatur.
In Orlando, Fla., a multinational crowd of 100 gathered at a park. “No justice, no peace. We stand with Ferguson” read one woman’s sign. Orlando is about 15 miles from Sanford where young Trayvon Martin was gunned down by racist wannabe cop George Zimmerman in 2012.
In Miami, demonstrators outside the federal building included members of the Dream Defenders, who protested Florida’s “stand your ground” law by occupying the state Capitol last year. The crowd demanded justice for Brown as well as for Israel Hernandez, a 17-year-old graffiti artist who died from a cop’s stun gun in Miami Beach a year ago. (miamiherald.com, Aug. 15)
Four demonstrations supporting the African-American community’s outrage in Ferguson were held Aug. 16 in Houston. Students from the historically Black Texas Southern University marched from their school to MacGregor Park’s recently inaugurated statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where they rallied. The National Black United Front held a rally in Houston’s historic Fifth Ward. Another protest was held at the Houston Police Department’s downtown headquarters, while another was held on the corner of Houston’s busiest intersection, a high-traffic area in a busy shopping district.
East Coast rallies against racism
Between 5,000 to 10,000 people rallied in Union Square, New York City, Aug. 14 with many then marching to Times Square. The New York Police Department arrested at least a dozen people, including Black bystanders and Occupy Wall Street activists. Other protests took place in Harlem and Brooklyn.
Four major rallies and marches took place in Boston. Over 1,000 people in front of the State House participated Aug. 14 in the national day of silence and vigils for Michael Brown. The next night, some 60 people gathered in Roxbury for a protest organized by rap music producer M.C. Spice and the Nation of Islam. Close to 1,000 people marched on Boston police headquarters in Roxbury Aug. 16. They condemned the killing of Brown as well as murders at the hands of Boston police of African Americans like Burrell “Bo” Ramsey-White, who was shot and killed in 2012.
Three actions took place in Baltimore Aug. 14, including a multinational, militant action of 200 people, mostly youth, who marched past the downtown police headquarters. Representatives of the revolutionary youth group FIST — Fight Imperialism, Stand Together — led chants and helped to direct the march. Workers World newspapers were distributed. All three rallies merged at the end, with close to 500 participants. The state had blocked off city hall from protesters, seemingly afraid of a repeat of the 10,000-strong demonstration in support of Trayvon Martin in 2012, which effectively shut down the Inner Harbor and city hall.
Around 1,000 people gathered at Love Park in Philadelphia Aug. 14 to demonstrate solidarity with Michael Brown and all victims of racist police violence. The large multinational crowd stood together and read dozens of names of Black youth and adults who have been killed by police recently, followed by a minute of silence. Afterwards, demonstrators spontaneously marched through pouring rain toward the Philadelphia Art Museum, while others gathered in the local subway station and continued marching and chanting. The demonstration ended with a speakout, followed by renewed calls to have weekly actions until Brown and all other victims of police terror get justice.
In Syracuse, N.Y., community members, high school and college students gathered Aug. 14 in a cool drizzle in Clinton Square to protest Michael Brown’s death and demand an end to police brutality. Several participants in the multinational crowd said they knew at least one young person who had been injured by local police. People gathered at the city hall in nearby Kingston and in front of the Dutchess County Jail in Poughkeepsie to honor the memories of those killed by police. (Mid-Hudson News Network, Aug. 15)
From Midwest to West Coast
In downtown Chicago, hundreds gathered at Daley Plaza, where chants of “No justice, no peace, no racist police!” were heard. Some 40 people gathered outside the federal courthouse in Reno, Nev., while dozens gathered in Seattle, holding up signs that read “Unite against racism” and “Solidarity with Ferguson.”
Dozens of community members from across Milwaukee and beyond took part in an Aug. 14 vigil in Dineen Park. On Aug. 17 dozens again protested the murder of Michael Brown and numerous Black and Brown community members gunned down by Milwaukee police. Protesters took the streets and briefly shut down a freeway off ramp to demand justice for victims of police terror.
In downtown St. Louis, not far from Ferguson, several hundred people, reportedly half Black and half white, gathered in a small park near the Gateway Arch to honor Brown’s memory. Attending was Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, who waved to the crowd as she wiped away tears, drawing applause. (Associated Press, Aug. 15)
In Los Angeles, the family and friends of Ezell Ford organized a protest of more than 500 people Aug. 17 with a march beginning at the Los Angeles Police Department’s downtown headquarters. Ford was a 25-year-old Black man killed by police in South Central L.A. Aug. 11 while lying on the ground unarmed. The family of Omar Abrego, a 37-year-old father of three who was pulled over for an alleged traffic violation on Aug. 2, then beaten to death by police just four blocks from where Ford was shot, also marched and demanded charges be filed immediately against the killer cops, who are on paid leave.
The protest and signs expressed solidarity with the family of Michael Brown and speakers linked all three killings with the epidemic of police murder against Black and Brown peoples, especially youth. Signs from the Peoples Power Assemblies highlighting the many racist murders by police and from the International Action Center linking the U.S.-sponsored Israeli war on Gaza with the killing of Michael Brown were well received. Since Aug. 14, there have been daily anti-police brutality protests in South Central and/or downtown Los Angeles.
In Oakland, Calif., thousands who came out Aug. 16 to stop the docking of a ship from apartheid Israel encountered a line of cops standing in formation when they reached the port entrance. Protesters erupted with chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot!” echoing the chants responding to police violence directed against the rebellion in Ferguson.
Several demonstrators made statements linking recent acts of police brutality with the U.S.-backed destruction in Gaza. “On Twitter, we’ve seen people in Gaza tweet to protesters in Ferguson how to cope with teargas,” said Mohamed Shehk, who helped organize the ship blockade. “They’re saying things like, ‘As Palestinians, we know what it’s like to be targeted and killed for being of the wrong ethnicity.’” (theguardian.com, Aug. 17)
Contributing to this report were Steven Ceci, Lamont Lilly, Dianne Mathiowetz, John Parker, Andre Powell, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Gloria Rubac, Gerry Scoppetuolo and Scott Williams.