Hundreds of New Yorkers protesting police brutality took over Broadway today and marched from Union Square to the Brooklyn Bridge, where some clashed with police amidst stalled traffic.
Around 2pm at Union Square, whistles screech as hundreds gathered around a small stage on the plaza, picket signs bobbing in the air: “STOP MURDER BY POLICE,” “Harlem is Ferguson, Ferguson is Everywhere!” “The Whole System is Guilty!”
The crowd hushed when the names of men and women slain by police officers were read aloud, their family members standing row on row behind the microphone. Nicholas Hayward, whose 13-year-old son was killed in New York in 1994, was the first to rally the audience. “For the last twenty years, I have been fighting to get this case reopened, and I will continue to fight,” he shouted out. “We should not be out here today. Our ancestors already fought and died for the things that we are fighting for right now. Your life counts, your voice counts.” The whistling and shouting grew louder and more excited as others took the mic. “What are gonna do?” “Shut it down!”
By the time Cornel West took the stage, radiating tenacity, the crowd was well primed. “Something, something just ain’t right! And I don’t know about you, but where I come from the people have a tradition that says, ‘If you don’t stand for something, you fall for anything.” His hand cut at the air like a conductor as he leaned forward and shouts of agreement pummeled at him from the audience. “We want everybody to raise your own voice. We don’t want full agreement, we don’t want unanimity, just raise your voice!”
The crowd was here to stop what some see as a “slow genocide” committed by police operating under a deeply flawed system. They were called together by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, a strategizing organization started by West and Carl Dix (founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party) that organizes activist convergences around the country.
At some point, a few dozen took up large canvas signs, one of which was a massive tent heaved onto shoulders that showed the faces of 44 people killed by police. The police convoy that had been standing quietly at the back of the crowd took action, too.
Officers on foot and on motorcycle flanked the protesters as they surge down Broadway in the middle of the roadway.
Amid chanting and disorienting whistle blowing — “Whose streets?” “Our streets!” — one officer on a bike was surrounded by a small crowd. More ran to join.
Some jeered and taunted him, others shouted to keep things moving. Though there was a unified goal to the march – stop police brutality – sentiments varied wildly from person to person. This was a clearly defined peaceful protest, but many took the opportunity to voice their fury in the face of the NYPD.
Marchers stopped at Houston and Broadway. “We are going to take our time here!” shouted one woman who had taken the lead. “Eric Garner said, ‘I can’t breath’ eleven times. Now we’re going to say, ‘I can’t breath’ eleven times.”
Some protesters lied in the streets, others pumped their fists in the air. With helicopters above and passersby clamor onto scaffolding to get a better look, the mood became increasingly tense.
It wasn’t until marchers reached the courthouses and City Hall that a police barricade of sorts formed. “You are breaking the law!” shouted an outraged protester. “You are depriving us of our rights!” Someone guided the crowd down Chambers and then Centre Streets, and it’s here that confusion broke out. Some ran under the arches of 1 Centre Street, others followed, and it was enough to give police officers time to form a barricade barring entrance to the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was the first time all day I saw a cop grin.
But the energy was too high at this point for that the make a difference. First one man burst through, running at top speed, dodging police who tried to grab him, then another, until the whole swell lurched forward.
There was cheering, then suddenly a panicked turnaround. “They’re making arrests, they’re making arrests!” Hundreds climbed over the divide onto the walkway, others quickly skirted their way around.
The massive signs crowdsurfed to the head of the march and faded into the distance as the protesters pushed forward, pursued slowly by police.
At the time of the bridge crossing, there was visual confirmation of two arrests and word of still more. Tweets from the scene show that the march continued into Brooklyn and made its way up Flatbush Avenue, where protesters staged a sit-in in the middle of Flatbush and Atlantic. A video below, posted by RT America, shows more arrests as protesters clashed with police on the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge.
7:50pm: Activist Stephan Keegan tweets the latest.
— Keegan Stephan (@KeeganNYC) April 14, 2015
Correction: An earlier version of this post was revised to correct the location at which marchers lied down in the street, which was at Houston not Fulton.