Mass marches affirm that ‘Black Lives Matter’

The four-month uprising against police violence received a tremendous boost on Dec. 13 — a national day of actions called by Ferguson and St. Louis, Mo., organizers.  In many U.S. cities, thousands — and even tens of thousands — of determined and militant activists and ordinary people took to the streets to demand justice for Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, John Crawford, Trayvon Martin and all victims of racist police and vigilante terror.

Reports confirmed that crowds were very multinational — Black, Brown, Arab, Asian, Native and white and overwhelmingly youthful. December 13 was one of 11 days, from Dec. 10 to 21, of coordinated actions called under the Twitter hashtag #ThisStopsToday. The number “11” symbolizes how many times Eric Garner responded, “I can’t breathe,” as Staten Island police put him in a chokehold, which eventually led to his death on July 17.

On Dec. 3, a Staten Island grand jury exonerated white police officer Daniel Pantaleo of any guilt in Garner’s murder and refused to indict him on any charges.

This legal decision came on the heels of another racist ruling announced on Nov. 24: White killer cop Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson on Aug. 9. Brown was attempting to surrender before Wilson shot him in the head.

Brown’s death sparked a more than week-long rebellion, followed by sustained resistance in Ferguson led by Black youth.  They expressed their own anger at police repression and occupation by chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot”

The Brown and Garner families are asking the Department of Justice to bring federal charges against the killer cops for violating the civil rights of their loved ones.

Social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, have been critical tools in providing information about U.S. and worldwide actions against police terror, sometimes called on one or two days’ notice.

Below are eyewitness reports of some of the actions which took place. There were protests in Denver, Boston, Los Angeles and in some smaller cities as well.

New York City  

The New York Police Department estimated that 50,000 to 60,000 people participated in the #MillionsMarchNYC that gathered at Washington Square Park near New York University.  They marched to various sites, including the busy shopping area at Herald Square, Union Square, 1 Police Plaza, eventually crossing over the Brooklyn Bridge.

The police were forced to shut down huge intersections in Manhattan to accommodate the crowds; this led to people’s occupations. These numbers helped to dash the hopes of despised Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. He had predicted that the protests would eventually “peter out” following the Garner grand jury hearing. (New York Times, Dec. 14)

The march was led by activists carrying huge placards that together made up a display of Garner’s eyes. The spirited crowd was very young, half people of color and half white. They vigorously chanted for hours. The signs and chants reflected anti-police, anti-racist and anti-capitalist sentiments.

The marchers were densely packed as they walked uptown, especially on both sides of Sixth Avenue for at least 20 blocks.

Labor unions were represented at the demonstration, including the Communications Workers Local 1180 and other CWA locals, 1199SEIU Health Care Workers East, Professional Staff Congress, United Auto Workers and District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Once activists reached Brooklyn, they marched to East New York to the Pink Houses, the projects where New York Police Department officers shot to death 28-year-old Akai Gurley in an unlit stairwell. The marchers also protested in front of the 75th Police Precinct where Gurley’s killer is stationed.

The police claimed protesters “attacked” some officers as they were crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Eric Linsker, a City University of New York adjunct professor, was arrested and charged with felonious assault against two police officers. The NYPD is now threatening to crack down on the protests.

— Toni Arenstein, John Catalinotto, Paul Wilcox, Edward Yudelovich


The People’s Power Assembly helped to organize thousands of people, mainly Black youth, to protest police brutality. Despite police trying to block the marchers and vans, protesters shut down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on both sides of the highway leading to I-95.

They liberated the area for over an hour and held a people’s assembly while everyone sat and blocked traffic. The police surrounded the protesters with horses, as helicopters loomed, and threatened to arrest them, but there were too many protesters.

The cops were put on the defensive as word got out via social media that the protesters’ constitutional rights were being threatened. Finally, the PPA ended the long night with a rally.

— Sharon Black  

Washington, D.C.

A “Justice for All” march attracted between 30,000 and 40,000 people in Washington, D.C. The National Action Network initiated the demonstration led by Rev. Al Sharpton and some of the families impacted by police brutality. Some 400 people traveled from Ferguson to D.C. The crowd was two-thirds Black.

Handmade signs were seen everywhere and a huge banner, stating: “In Georgia, We Can’t Breathe.” An African-American man held a sign that read: “146 Years Is Enough Patience.” Another sign read, “You’ll Never Really Get Justice On Stolen Land!” Members of 1199/SEIU held up flags and signs. The United Federation of Teachers, Transport Workers Union Local 100 and Communities of Change were there.

Marchers went from Freedom Plaza to the Capitol. There was a militant spirit to the rally, as every speaker began by saying, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” which was followed by “I can’t breathe!” and “Black lives matter!”

Rally speaker Newark, N.J., Mayor Ras Baraka stressed, “We can’t breathe under continuing Jim Crow oppression.”

The Ferguson speakers were all youth. One young African-American activist said he got arrested five times in Ferguson for protesting — and after each arrest, he went back out on the streets and “got right back in the cops’ faces.”

A young African-American woman said, “This is not about Black versus white. This is us against the system. What we’re doing is what the system doesn’t want to see: Black faces, white faces, Asian faces, all marching together.” However, she said, “In D.C., we don’t say ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ anymore. ‘Hands up’ is the universal sign of surrender. We’ve tried that and it hasn’t stopped the genocide of Black and Brown youth. Now we say, ‘Fists up, fight back!'”

Reverand Sharpton stated, “As inspiring as it was to see the first Black president sworn in, I’ve been equally inspired today to see young whites marching holding up signs that say ‘Black Lives Matter.’ The media won’t show that.”

Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother; Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother; Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother; John Crawford II, John Crawford III’s father; Kimberly Ballinger, Akai Gurley’s partner; and other relatives of police brutality victims were on stage at the rally’s end. This was very moving.

It is impressive that a national mobilization in Washington happened on the same day that 60,000 marched in New York City. The march’s main political theme was the demand that the federal government supersede local and state-sanctioned grand juries with those under the auspices of appointed special prosecutors.

— Tony Murphy

Oakland, Calif.

Chinasa Ozonsi is a member of the California State East Bay Black Student Union and an organizer for the Millions March in Oakland. She told WW that 8,000 people attended the day’s demonstration in Oakland, and 2,000 participated in San Francisco.

Ozonsi said, “The mission of the event was to have Black and Brown people be at the forefront, to be the spokespeople and articulate the woes, sorrows and voice of the Black community. What touched me was the amount of non-Black and -Brown people who marched with us with signs saying, ‘Black lives matter.’ It’s vital for us to acknowledge and appreciate all of our allies. What really stood out to me was all the non-Black people who were out there with us. I felt so alive and so important. It was a beautiful, beautiful thing.”

An African-American contingent marched from Telegraph Avenue and 20th Street to Oscar Grant Plaza for a first rally. Then everyone marched to the Alameda County Courthouse for another rally. The Berkeley Black Student Union also led a march from University of California/Berkeley to the courthouse.

The program at the second rally included Wanda Johnson, Oscar Grant’s mother; Sara O’Neal performing a song/poem; and spoken word artist, Imani Love. At an open mic session, a reverend from St. Louis spoke. He had brought Michael Brown Sr. to the San Francisco Bay Area for several speaking engagements following the Dec. 13 march.

— Terri Kay

San Diego

San Diego held a rally and march in Balboa Park in solidarity with the national actions. It was organized by United Against Police Terror and AFirm.

After the rally, a second meeting was held at the Malcolm X Library, organized by students, 80 percent of whom were of African descent. This meeting drew even more youth. The library opened up another room because of the large turnout, which was unexpected.

— Gloria Verdieu

Photos: Brenda Ryan, G. Dunkel in New York City. Minnie Bruce Pratt in Syracuse, N.Y. Sharon Black in Baltimore. Bill Hackwell, Delores Lemon Thomas in Oakland, Calif.