If yesterday’s march in New York City is any indication, it appears there’s growing support nationwide for the Baltimore uprising ignited by the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, the unarmed Black man who died mysteriously in police custody nearly two weeks ago.
The Baltimore crisis, which, depending on your perspective is either an “uprising” or a “riot,”resulted in broken windows and burned buildings on Saturday, and has gained national attention, drawing public response ranging from celebrities all the way to President Barack Obama.
On Wednesday, thousands of people showed up at Manhattan’s Union Square for a rally in support of protesters in Baltimore, as well as to end what many see as a growing epidemic of police violence towards African-Americans. At least 100 were arrested in New York City last night during a racially diverse face-off against the NYPD, which many protesters said took a more aggressive tack towards marchers this time around.
New York City has had its own high-profile cases of police brutality and violence against unarmed Black citizens: Many recall the 1997 case of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, who was viciously sodomized by officers while being detained, as well as the 1999 and 2007 shooting deaths of Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell. And last summer, Eric Garner‘s death at the hands of police was ruled a “homicide” by the city coroner’s office.
The march began in New York with a high-energy rally before dusk, where attendees heard from the families of those who were killed during interactions with the NYPD such as Constance Malcolm, the mother of Ramarley Graham; Akai Gurley’s aunt, Hertencia Peterson; and Gregory Chavis’ mother Danette Chavis.
Several minutes before the long march, NewsOne spoke with Cynthia Howell, the niece of Alberta Spruill, a 57-year-old African-American woman who was accidentally killed in 2003 by New York police during a botched drug raid. “It is imperative that relative[s] of victims of police brutality be here because of the senseless acts from police across the country and especially in New York that we are the constant victims of,” said Spruill.
Continuing, she asked, “Why am I here? I have to be here. It doesn’t stop for me. And we have to keep on until we get some kind of resolve.”
After the rally, protesters took their message to the streets and marched loudly through midtown-constantly disrupting traffic along the way and shouting such familiar phrases as “Black Lives Matter,” “Racist cops have to go,” and “End Police Brutality.” At one point they even blocked the Holland Tunnel entrance as well as the West Side Highway, demanding an end to police violence towards Blacks.
The New York Daily News reports that hundreds were arrested last night, and uploaded a video yesterday showing an NYPD police captain telling an officer to “get in there and pick somebody out. Not the press.”
While on the highway there were some minor clashes with officers and at least five arrests were made there, forcing protesters to choose another route. Several times during the march, participants staged sit-ins and die-ins—one taking place downtown at Broadway and West Houston, and another one right in the middle of Times Square.
The whole time there was a heavy police presence chaperoning marchers with a loud NYPD helicopter hovering overhead.
What many observers of the event found to be quite remarkable was the racial diversity of the participants. Although police violence appears to be primarily directed at Blacks, the “Black Lives Matter” movement seems to have reached beyond the Black community. One observer noticed what he felt was “strong White participation” during the whole evening.
Sam Mellins, who was marching last night, and who happens to be White and Jewish, expressed his concerns. “I think it’s outrageous that unarmed Black and brown people are being gunned down by police every day. I identify as a Jewish person and Judaism believes in social justice and standing up for the oppressed.”
In the upcoming days, more demonstrations are scheduled to be held in cities across America.