Protests grow stronger, stop traffic across country
Demonstrations expressing outrage over the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner took place over the Dec. 6-7 weekend and into Dec. 9. The most frequent chants at most protests were “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe.”
At the University of California, Berkeley, on Dec. 4, the California Black Student Union held a four-and-a-half-hour occupation of the Golden Bear Café, directly across from the Sproul Hall Administration building on campus. Police had shut down Sproul Hall, the original site of the BSU rally, presumably to prevent its occupation. Elaine Brown, former chair of the Black Panther Party, was one of the many speakers to address the hundreds who joined the rally.
On Dec. 6, the 50th anniversary of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, cops made several arrests, shot tear gas and even rubber bullets into the crowd. On Dec. 6 and 7, demonstrators started at the campus gates and zig-zagged through the streets, demanding “Shut it down for Michael Brown” and all Black and Brown youth who have been targeted and killed by the police. Each time the police tried to stop the large swell of protesters, the crowd took off in another direction.
As in other cities, chants have gone in two weeks from “Hands up, don’t shoot!” to “Fists up, fight back!” Onlookers and even drivers caught in traffic were overwhelmingly supportive, honking horns in time with the chants. One driver even turned around and drove along with the march.
On Dec. 7, an even larger crowd of younger people took to the streets, yelling, “Indict, convict, send killer cops to jail; the whole damn system is guilty as hell!” Blocked from the police station, demonstrators headed to City Hall where they held a rally on the building steps. After the crowd grew to about 3,000, they marched from Berkeley to Oakland to stop traffic on the 580 Freeway.
Police again used tear gas and force to stop the protesters from taking over the freeway ramps. Groups of demonstrators supported each other getting on and off the freeways.
More demonstrations are being planned in the coming days. Young people throughout the Bay Area have made it clear that “Black and Brown lives matter,” and there will not be any peace until there is justice for African-American and Latino/a communities.
In nearby Oakland, Calif., militant, largely youthful crowds, predominantly white, but often led by youth of color, angrily marched through the streets all week, usually starting downtown at Oscar Grant Plaza. On Dec. 5, after leaving the area around police headquarters, they marched onto the I-880 off ramp at Market and 6th Street, where they shut down freeway traffic in both directions for at least half an hour. They then marched to the West Oakland Bay Area Rapid Transit stop, where the BART police hastily stopped them by dropping heavy metal gates, shutting the station and related trans-bay traffic for at least half an hour.
Demonstrators in Buffalo, N.Y., took to the streets all over town on Dec. 4 and 5 after the Garner decision. They blocked intersections where they dropped to the ground and observed four-and-a-half minutes of silence in memory of Mike Brown. Students from Buffalo State and the University at Buffalo organized together for a march that took the streets, and other marches, rallies and die-ins drew increasingly large crowds.
On Dec. 4, the cops cut off traffic once the streets had been shut down by protests, but the next day cops blocked off dozens of streets all around the planned protest site long in advance of the demonstration, refusing access to cars and cutting off marchers. Hundreds of protesters flooded the high-traffic shopping area with signs, banners and chants demanding justice.
Over 500 people rallied and marched in Amityville, Long Island, N.Y., a working-class Black, Latino and white village. The multinational crowd listened to young activists in a Long Island Railroad parking lot. Speakers recounted the long history of police murders of young African-American men. One speaker from the Latin American community said that the uprising in Mexico against the murders and disappearances of the 43 students at Ayotzinapa and this resistance to the grand jury exoneration of the police murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are responses to the same pattern of violence and that people were united in the same struggle.
The demonstrators shut down the main thoroughfare of Suffolk County, Sunrise Highway. Some carried signs calling for justice for 20-year-old Kyle Howell, a young Black man from Westbury who was brutally beaten by three Nassau County Police at a traffic stop last April. Howell had been charged with assault, but the incident was caught on camera and a judge dismissed the charges against him. Howell’s family is now suing the Nassau County Police Department.
Marchers honored Sean Bell by counting to 50, the number of bullets New York City Police shot into the young, unarmed Black man who was celebrating at his bachelor party in 2006.
As the voices of the marchers roused people from their houses, one woman called out a chant that the crowd picked up, “Get off your couches and into the streets! Get off your couches and into the streets!”
In Boston, nearly 10,000 protesters organized by Black Lives Matter marched on the State Capitol after disrupting Mayor Marty Walsh’s Christmas tree lighting on Boston Common on Dec. 4. They then moved to the steps of the State House, where several were arrested, including march organizers, who were pinned to the ground and verbally assaulted by state police. The throng then broke into several separate marches. One group marched on the JFK Federal Building in Government Center, while another swarmed onto an onramp to Interstate 93, blocking the entrance. All the while people never stopped chanting, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” and “Black lives matter!”
The next day, another march of 500, mainly students, gathered in Somerville, marched two miles through Cambridge and all the way to the entrance to the Massachusetts Avenue bridge which connects Boston to Cambridge, blocking it for a short time.
Traffic after the National Football League’s Philadelphia/Seattle game on Dec. 7 was disrupted by a die-in in the middle of a main intersection outside the Philadelphia stadium. POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild) organizers first called on various religious leaders to speak during a half-hour rally before calling the crowd into the streets. There hundreds of participants lay down on the cold asphalt for four-and-a-half minutes to protest police brutality and the court system that allows such actions to go unpunished.
Demonstrations and die-ins are popping up in Atlanta on short notice with at least four taking place on Dec. 6, including a pre-announced noon march and rally in suburban Marietta and a die-in on the 17th Street bridge over Interstate 75/85 in the afternoon. There was a banner drop at a Southeastern Conference football game.
On Dec. 7, high-school youth initiated and held a die-in in front of Macy’s in the Lenox Mall. Dozens of people, chanting “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe,” lay down on the floor of the crowded mall. Youth are planning similar actions.
Ebenezer Baptist Church hosted another community speak-out the evening of Dec. 8. The one last week featured Eric Holder, several other elected officials and civil rights figures who took up most of the time. The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement has called for a Peoples Assembly on police terror in January.
In Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., on Dec. 6, cops arrested 14 protesters from Occupy The Hood, among others, including three visitors from Ferguson, Mo., while attempting to block Interstate 794 in Milwaukee. On Dec. 4, the Coalition For Justice sponsored a speak-out to demand justice for Dontre Hamilton at the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission meeting. To sign a petition to demand justice for Dontre Hamilton, go to tinyurl.com/olskkh4.
Anti-racist murder demonstrations have been held in Seattle every day since the Brown and Garner decisions. On Dec. 6, more than 3,000 people marched, starting from Garfield High School in the Black community and organized and led by Black students. Protesters marched downtown to the so-called “Justice Center,” that is, police headquarters, holding rallies at three main intersections along the way. Several people were arrested trying to lead the protest onto the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Terri Kay, Gil Ross, Judy Greenspan, Ellie Dorritie, Heather Cottin, Gerry Scoppettuolo, Joe Piette, Dianne Mathiowetz, Wisconsin WW Bureau, and Jim McMahan reported. John Catalinotto edited.