New York City saw a fourth weekend of protests and demonstrations against police brutality this weekend, kicked off on Friday during Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the emancipation of all slaves in the United States on June 19, 1865.
This weekend’s protests and celebrations were marked by a sense of unity. Where in recent weeks protests have been decentralized with activists leading smaller protests in specific neighborhoods, this weekend’s events brought various organizers and groups together in a collective effort to call for continued dissent, and significant systematic and political change to address demonstrators’ demands.
“Do you know why they divide us?” asked Chelsea Miller, one of the organizers of Freedom March NYC’s Juneteenth event. “Because it is when we are divided that we fall.”
Demonstrations began early in the morning on Friday and stretched late into the evening. In Manhattan, people began to gather at Washington Square Park around 10 a.m. to rally and march toward City Hall. Before that group marched there, a youth-led demonstration chanted at City Hall and called on the city to divest in the New York Police Department and invest in education.
In Brooklyn, large crowds gathered at the Brooklyn Museum at noon for Freedom March NYC’s Juneteenth Event, “A Celebration of Black Joy.” Chelsea Miller, Nialah Edari, and Nia White, three of the group’s organizers, spoke to the ever-swelling crowd and called for the movement to pivot to policy making and institutional change.
“This is not a game, it is our lives,” Chelsea said, “We must re-allocate resources to support this movement.”
As they spoke, other groups joined them, including the organizers of the Juneteenth Cel-Liberation rally, and local politicians such as New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Democratic State Committee Member Josué Pierre.
“We are here because our country has refused to reckon with and atone for the original sin of slavery,” Public Advocate Williams said, “It should not have taken 3 weeks of unrest to celebrate Juneteenth.”
Though slavery was formally ended with the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1962 – over two and a half years before Juneteenth – enforcement of the proclamation generally relied on Union Troops’ ability to reach formerly Confederate regions with enslaved populations. June 19th marks the day that those troops, led by General Gordon Granger, reached the remote territory of Texas and freed the last of the enslaved population in the country there.
Williams called for demonstrators and activists to continue making demands, and to understand that to say that Black Lives Matter, and to ask for equity in both the political system and in everyday life, should not be seen as an extreme demand.
“Equity and justice should not be revolutionary words. They are only revolutionary in a system built on enslaved people,” Williams said.
From the Brooklyn Museum, thousands of protestors then marched on Eastern Parkway towards Grand Army Plaza. Freedom March organizers called for demonstrators to not lose track of the atonement that had brought them to this place, but also for marchers to celebrate in honor of Juneteenth. As the group made its way towards Prospect March, @SubwayDJ played Beyonce and Pop Smoke, while organizers and demonstrators waved signs, sang, and danced in the street.
“Black Joy Matters,” marchers yelled, as they passed the Brooklyn Public Library.
The rally then converged on the upper lawn of Prospect Park, where sunbathers looked on as protesters in black and purple flooded the lawn. Organizers jumped on a stage they’d set up, and encouraged demonstrators to settle in for a day of performances, speeches, spoken word, and picnicking.
Around 2 p.m., groups of protesters across the city converged at Cadman Plaza in downtown Brooklyn. Unite NY 2020, which consists of several activists who got together in hopes of bringing different demonstration groups together in an effort to display unity, led thousands of people in chants and took turns passing the microphone around.
“One of the things that we really wanna be sure of — we are the people’s mic,” said Alaina Zunig, a Unite NY 2020 member. “We are not speaking — Unite New York does not speak for just one person, one type of person. We’re the people’s mic.”
About an hour later, the group began to march across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. A drumline led the group – thousands strong – and bikers ringed the crowd. Despite the sweltering heat, protestors carrying banners and signs shut down the roadway on the Brooklyn Bridge and walked its length into Manhattan. Organizers sang and chanted, encouraging the crowd to keep up momentum as they marched on through downtown Manhattan to City Hall. There, the day culminated in speeches and demonstrations calling for the abolition of the NYPD, re-allocation of police funding to education, housing, and healthcare, and other systematic, political change.
“We’re the greatest city in the world,” said Clive Destiny, a Unite NY 2020 member. “We set the bar, we set the tone and we pop out like no other.”
Demonstrations continued into the weekend, with one crowd forming at Borough Hall around noon on Saturday. The 19-year-olds who organized the event brought up several children to address the crowd and perform a dance.
“I learned that you could say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and still clutch your purse in the elevator when you’re near a black man or woman,” one youth speaker said.
The group then set off on a march toward Brooklyn Bridge Park, continuing to chant and rally observers to join and walk with them.
In Times Square on Saturday, @StreetRidersNYC organized a bike rally that drew over 10,000 cyclists, more than attended President Trump’s rally in Tulsa the same day. The group biked 25 miles, from Times Square to Harlem, and down West Side Highway to Battery Park. At some points, the crowd of cyclists was almost 4 miles long. Some riders then split off to Brooklyn near dark, and could be seen biking through Bed Stuy near 9pm.
Fireworks– now the subject of a twitter conspiracy theory involving the police setting them off– went off throughout the city all weekend. At some points on Friday and Saturday nights, the bursts were so widespread that the sky seemed fully lit, and the streets were filled with smoke. Fireworks could also be heard in the daytime throughout the city all weekend.
Photos by Erin O’Brien (black and white) and Emmy Freedman (color).
Correction, June 30: This post was revised to correct the surname of Nialah Edari.