Max F. Neuman, ’16
As soon as the Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury released their verdict on Monday, November 24th, against indicting Officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting Michael Brown this summer, protesters took to the streets across the country. An outpouring of dissent against the decision, and a second protest drew more demonstrators to Union Square the day after the verdict.
After its beginning in Union Square, the protest soon entered the streets, flowing onto roads and encouraging passerby on the streets to join them. Motorists had isolated confrontations with demonstrators, including an incident where a demonstrator climbed onto the rear fender of a parking car in front of a hotel. The protesters made their way through the streets to the Lincoln Tunnel’s entrance, where NYPD forces lined up to establish a blockade. Traffic was held up as demonstrators and police stood face to face at the tunnel, and the march caused periodic disturbances along its route, but non-demonstrators were not upset. “I stand by everyone protesting,” said an anonymous Brooklyn woman standing on the sidewalk as demonstrators marched in the streets. One arrest was made at the Lincoln Tunnel when, according to bystanders, one individual tried to run through the police line. Police officers and Deputy Commissioners of Public Information walking along the march declined to comment at the tunnel or at any other point of the demonstration.
Many of the assembled protesters expressed one singular reason for their presence. “I am going to this protest because I strongly disagree with the jury as to the decision that was made about Darren Wilson that he was not indicted, even though he should have been charged with at least manslaughter,” said Kira Carleton, a BHSEC sophomore. “I’m here because I’m angry, and I’ve been angry for a while,” said a Washington, D.C. resident who asked that her name not be disclosed.
Other students came with an intent to see what developed, such as Sam Wilner, Y1, who said “I’m just here as an impartial observer. Objectively, horrible things have happened, but I’m not chanting because…” Mr. Wilner paused briefly, listened to demonstrators loudly repeating the “Hands up, don’t shoot” mantra and decided “Well, this is a chant I can agree with, actually,” before continuing the interview. After the demonstration, he said that he “fully sided with the protesters on most matters.”
Some demonstrators held a confrontational vision on the result they hoped to gain from the protest. “The only way that we’ll get justice in this system is an immediate shutdown of this government, and we need to do that through street action. We need to try these criminals in the people’s court. We need to try them right here in the street,” said Henry Kames, a member of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition. Frank, a South Bronx resident, expressed a similar view, saying “Revolution is definitely important. I think that’s the only way. That’s the only way this is going to happen. Lobbying isn’t going to work, you going to your councilman isn’t going to work, saying ‘cop, please don’t kill me, pretty please,’ isn’t going to work. It’s time for a revolution.” He added, “We can’t do this for three weeks and then go home and get back on Instagram like it never happened.”
Other members of the march expressed hope for greater dialogue. “We need to keep a discussion going about oppression of black people in general in this country,” said Y2 Mojique Tyler. Tampa, Florida native Gwen expressed similar ideas, saying “The more people that come together and cause the communities to be united and cause a healthy exchange of information between different groups of people with different ideas, we should be able to stamp this racism out, because I don’t think people will stand for it much longer.” Gloria Mattera, the Co-Chair of the New York State Green Party, said “I just hope that thousands more people come out and that this entire area is filled with people. I hope that everyone can show their anger and their solidarity with Ferguson without anyone here getting hurt, and I hope the police will exercise restraint and understanding and respect for those of us who are outraged about what happened and want to be together and express that.”
The involvement of police forces in death of Michael Brown and the response of the police and National Guard to protests in and around Ferguson lead to a great variety of opinions from demonstrators. Some people present at the protest had views that the police were not inherently at fault at the demonstration or in the case of Michael Brown. “We have to give this policeman the benefit of the doubt in Ferguson because the evidence is not clear cut. There were many African-American witnesses who, we are told, spoke at the grand jury and said he made a headlong aggressive punch at the policeman” said Robert, a resident of Greenwich Village. Mike, a Bushwick resident photographing the march said “I think the NYPD’s done a really good job,” he said, describing police efforts to prevent the demonstrators from moving to the entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel. “I haven’t seen anything dramatic.”
Certain protesters expressed another opinion against the police force. Gwen said, “Fuck the police. I don’t like them. I don’t like NYPD. They’re very abusive. They’re very abusive and they need to be reformed. We need to get rid of Bratton. He’s been in power since Giuliani. He has had so many police brutality problems that I don’t see why he’s still in charge. Since I was a teenager, Bill Bratton has been letting cops beat people up, so he has to go.” She expressed displeasure at other cases of police misconduct and added, “If somebody were to put their hands on my son, I would not wait for the justice system to take care of it.” A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition’s Henry Kames declared “I think that they’re here to basically oppress our right to free speech, to keep us from organizing further, to intimidate us. The fact that a so-called democracy would use armed military forces against its own people is the sign that we live in a dictatorship and a police state.”
Dozens of officers flanked the march, on foot and mounted on motorcycles. Two helicopters circled around the demonstration at its onset in Union Square, and that number increased to four soon after protesters took to the streets. It could not be discerned, however, if the helicopters were operated by the media or by the NYPD. Many protesters also expressed irritation at the authorities of attempting to steer the march away from major venues to dim its effect. At one point, demonstrators broke into a run to gain ground and, ostensibly, to prevent police control over their direction. Numerous BHSEC students were seen at the fore of this charge.
Y2 Mojique Tyler acted as one of the main organizers within BHSEC to bring students to this protest. In the days prior to the verdict, he actively used social media to bring attention to the topic. He said “I’m really happy with the number of people who came out, but I wish there were more here. More people need to care about this.” Mojique estimated that 20-25 BHSEC students were in attendance, higher than his expected amount of 15. BHSEC students Jesus Valdez and Eugene Varnedoe also made their presence felt, carrying aloft a sign bearing the slogans “No justice, no peace” on one side and “Stand & fight” on the other.
Protests were slated to continue through Friday, November 28th to continue the reaction to the verdict, with the objective of rebranding the shopping holiday into a “Black Lives Matter” Friday.