Amidst an uprising of Americans against police brutality – namely white cops disproportionately terrorizing black women and men and walking free of consequences – a cop actually getting indicted and charged for the killing of an unarmed black man should have been cause for celebration for a deserved – no, necessary – victory for justice. Having been a vocal advocate against the excessive police violence towards black and brown people, it was therefore difficult to trust my initial tentative reaction: the swiftness of this latest verdict was made more unsettling considering that the cop charged is Asian American.
In the span of 3 hours, I witnessed 9 arrests by NYPD, made some new friends in solidarity, nearly lost my voice, and oscillated between deep elation over a people united, and inexplicable anger at the irony of continued police injustice during the very march to abolish it. This was the Million March NYC in response to the Baltimore uprising and the death of Freddie Gray.
Within five minutes of our march, we were stopped by police blocking the road ordering us to return. Peaceful protestors initially turned around to march back until some inevitably began to push and shove while dodging aggressive police. Forced on the sidewalks, we watched on. One policeman hoisted a loud speaker projecting robotic messages to disperse the crowds and “maintain order.” This degree of militarized policing was rare even for seasoned protesters. For a moment, it felt as though we were transplanted to an unfamiliar warring state.
In the next ten minutes, the police exerted power and control by making at least 6 unnecessary arrests of peaceful protesters who may have been unlucky to stand and chant near the cops. We chanted even louder, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Watch the video here.
Fragmented, protesters gathered in smaller groups and marched on with our message: New York is Baltimore, and Baltimore is New York. A marching band joined with musical accompaniment that made the heavy chants and solemn mood a bit lighter. We chanted on, “This is what community looks like! This is what love looks like!” Intermittent celebrations of our collective solidarity served as a good reminder to take a look around and appreciate the power of organizing.
In spite of police intimidation, we spilled into the streets as a form of disruption. Civil disruption and its intended inconvenience mean that we are capturing attention, even if momentarily. It is a short sliver of time for the otherwise voiceless individuals to claim a few moments to be heard: “Black lives matter!” Stopped cars waited patiently while protesters encouraged drivers to get out and join. For every annoyed, head-shaking driver idling on the road, just as many smiled in delight, enthusiastically honked their horn, and chanted along in support. We took over Broadway from Union Square to City Hall, and back to Times Square.
In their most subdued state, police guarded behind us or next to us to keep watch. On several occasions, the police not only stood assembled, blocking the way, but charged towards us to get us out of the streets and onto the sidewalks. If you were the unlucky few who got caught on the street chanting, you may have been arrested. During one of the altercations, the leading “Black Lives Matter” banner was torn off its posts while an excess of nearly 9 policemen charged to arrest one man. I couldn’t take my eyes off the giant mound of cops excessively piled over a single protester faced down. Others plead with black policemen and women, urging for understanding and solidarity in place of aggression and authority. In response, most turned away with no words, exposing their conflicted positions. The more the police tried to control, the more we marched on. The now bare banner posts marched on, too.
Photo credit: Saif Alnuweiri
Following my recent article in Huffington Post – Guide to Getting Uncomfortable With Race – I’m hoping we can open a space for reflection and dialogue. “The uprising we’re witnessing in our digital and physical communities should be the impetus for engaging in some real discomfort with our friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues. To truly move forward, we have to move within ourselves to have some uncomfortable conversations about race in America.”
Wherever we are in our racial exploration, we all can move a bit forward each day, whether it’s in reading an article or becoming aware of a racial bias, then having a conversation with a friend. Everyday, we can move forward, however small our steps.
Here are a few questions to consider to help deepen our exploration and dialogue around race:
- What racial biases did you realize you hold?
- How are you committing to unlearning your biases each day, week, or month?
- How have you empathetically engaged someone in a race conversation?
- This #BlackLivesMatter uprising is unique in that it doesn’t necessarily operate around a single objective, but a broad and multi-faceted problem of a racist system. Do you think we need a singular objective to move forward? If not, why?
- In your experience, how have you successfully combated naysayers who don’t believe in the cause, are quick to blame the victim, or complain about protest-related inconveniences?
- Are there good examples in other nations that we can learn from as we gather power and strength to combat a racist system?
Washington, D.C. came alive in response to the verdict to Mike Brown’s case – the police who shot the unarmed Mike Brown dead will not be indicted. An estimated 11,000 demonstrators piled into Mt. Vernon Square on November 25 at 7pm and began the march through downtown DC in solidarity with Ferguson.
Some motorists were caught in the middle of the march on New York Ave. While stuck waiting, some drivers raised their hands up and chanted with us, “hands up, don’t shoot.” A few marchers greeted the immobile motorists and apologized for their delay.
The march even paused outside of and occupied the newly opened Walmart on H Street in a display of continued protest against Walmart’s low wages. No laws were broken, nor was anything stolen while Walmart was briefly occupied. Walmart workers and shoppers expressed solidarity by throwing their hands up.
Throughout the walk, many marchers encountered familiar faces and shared hugs and stories, lamenting on what the Ferguson decision meant to them. Amidst a passionate call-and-response of “no peace, no justice!” or the popular hashtag “black lives matter!”, marchers remained courteous, peaceful, and showed nothing but love. The Asian American community represented with signs that read “Yellow Peril Loves, Supports, and Protects Black Power,” and “Asian Americans in Solidarity with Ferguson.” Some chants were repeated in Spanish – “Que queremos? Justicia. Cuando? Ahora!”
The march concluded with a gathering on the steps of the Portrait Gallery while some marchers sang. Crowds dispersed around 9:30pm, about 1.5 hours after the march began.