A tenth day of protests against police brutality ended without the widespread arrests seen in previous nights and culminated in the lifting of a citywide curfew and a pledge to cut NYPD funding. “Yesterday and last night we saw the very best of our city,” tweeted Mayor Bill de Blasio, ending the highly contentious curfew a day early. “We will be moving funding from the NYPD to youth initiatives and social services,” the mayor announced this morning.
The announcements came after thousands gathered at Grand Army Plaza around noon on Saturday with the goal of walking across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan to City Hall.
“I do it for my unborn,” said Yahshiyah Vines, one of two 19-year-old Brooklyn natives who organized the protest. “We do it for our future, so our kids don’t have to march, so our kids don’t have to see people die on camera and no justice get served.”
Placing an emphasis on their fellow young people in attendance, Vines and fellow organizer Treon Cory reiterated the need for people to vote during the New York’s June 23 Democratic primary — and also to run for office — before rallying the group to begin marching down Flatbush Avenue toward Barclays Center.
“We need future congressmen, we need future mayors, we need future politicians,” Vines said. “Any one of you in this crowd wants to replace de Blasio, look around you. Not only are these your protesters next to you, these are your voters.”
Making their way out of Grand Army Plaza, people held up signs and chanted while a couple of others beat on drums. The organizers repeatedly emphasized that this would be a peaceful protest, saying that the rioting and looting aspects of the demonstrations are being blown out of proportion. “The end goal for these marches, for our votes, for all our emotions, the end goal is justice and peace and unity,” Vines said.
After a brief stop at Barclays Center to take a knee, the group proceeded toward the Brooklyn Bridge. Police officers stopped the crowd at the bridge, and instructed the organizers to lead the group along the crosswalk and not on the road. Vines and Cory complied, shaking hands with the officers and guiding protesters along the appointed route.
“We paid for this bridge, we paid for these crosswalks,” Vines said. “My ancestors died building this. And they’re still trying to hold us back. Where does the hatred stem from? We all love each other.”
The group continued to march across the bridge and were cheered on by bikers who had stopped along the bridge and drivers passing by underneath.
More police greeted the protesters on the other side of the bridge, but they did not stop the group from continuing on toward City Hall. Chants of “Black lives matter” and “No justice, no peace” had now traveled over three miles and across two boroughs.
At 7pm, hundreds of protesters again gathered at Barclays Center for a candlelight vigil for Breonna Taylor. The event, hosted by City Council majority leader Laurie Cumbo and public Advocate Jumaane Williams, aimed to honor Taylor’s life and legacy, and to call for convictions for her killers, on the day after what would have been Taylor’s 27th birthday.
A notable police presence surrounded Barclays, but few wore riot gear and the atmosphere was markedly less tense than in days past.. Most protestors wore masks and other forms of PPE, while few of the police had their faces covered.
Cumbo and Williams, along with several female speakers, both called for justice in Taylor’s killing, and for protesters to continue challenging the systems that have led to the deaths of thousands of black Americans at the hands of the police.
“I am tired,” one speaker said, ”We have a right to rest. To lie down, and dream.”
Another woman sang to honor Taylor’s birthday, while Cumbo invited a young black girl up to join them in protest. Most of the crowd stood with heads bowed, in silence.
“Happy birthday, Breonna,” the organizers said. “Thank you for being essential to a world that denied your essence.”
Williams echoed this sentiment, and encouraged protesters to continue to demonstrate peacefully. “People are in pain. People are hurting. People are seeing themselves or their neighbors get shot and killed unarmed with no kind of justice. The taking of streets is the least we should be doing,” he said.
As curfew passed, the speakers continued to lead demonstrators in protest in front of Barclays. Near 8:30pm, Williams led protesters onto Atlantic Avenue, and encouraged them to kneel in the streets. They asked black women in the crowd to come to the front, next to the organizers. The crowd then fell silent, kneeling, heads bowed, for eight minutes and 48 seconds, the amount of time that Derek Chauvin held his knee on George Floyd’s neck. The number eight is also a reference to the number of times Taylor was shot by police in her home.
After the moment of silence, the crowd stood up and cheered.
“You think your knees hurt?” one protester said, “Imagine how his neck felt.”
The crowd then continued past the Barclays Center and south onto Flatbush Avenue as @SubwayDJ– who normally plays music on New York’s subways– played music out of a large speaker. No arrests were recorded in the area.
Peaceful demonstrations continued throughout the night, snaking through Brooklyn streets. Near 11pm, a driver at St. Johns Avenue and Brooklyn Avenue drove into a crowd of protesters, knocking several cyclists off of their bikes. The night remained largely peaceful, however, and organizers told protesters to disperse at 11pm, as part of an apparent agreement with police.
The night of protests in Brooklyn ended with another kneeling moment of silence in front of Barclays Center.
During a press conference Sunday morning, Mayor de Blasio did not specify how much of the NYPD’s $6 billion budget would be reallocated to youth initiatives and social services. “The details will be worked out in the budget process in the weeks ahead,” he said, “but I want people to understand that we are committed to shifting resources to ensure that the focus is on our young people.”
De Blasio also said that the policing of street vendors would be turned over to a civilian agency, and “community ambassadors” would be appointed in October to “bring the concerns of their community to the highest levels of the NYPD.” He also voiced support for reforming the 50a law, which keeps police personnel records– including information about disciplinary actions– from public view. De Blasio said that while he was still waiting to read the final text of the bill that would change the law, he hoped it could be passed next week.
Photos by Emmy Freedman (color) and Erin O’Brien (black and white).