It was a cold Wednesday night in December when protestors took to the streets in New York City, passionate about sending a message: This has to stop! Just a little over a week after learning that Darren Wilson would not be indicted for killing Michael Brown, the world learned of the Staten Island grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer responsible for killing Eric Garner in July of this year. With mixed emotions from a city that has witnessed and experienced many extrajudicial killings and injustices, people took to the streets to #ShutItDown.
Chants of "How do you spell 'racist'? 'N-Y-P-D'!" filled the hollow beginning of the Lincoln Tunnel, which was barricaded by an army of police officers blocking protestors who'd marched from Grand Central Station. A protestor gained everyone's attention with a mic check. He led a call and response where everyone repeated, "These police officers... keep killing our people!... Don't kill us!... Don't shoot us!... Don't choke us!" Some police officers stood with handcuffs and batons in hand, while others kept their hands on their holsters, ready to use them at any point they felt necessary. "We are within our right to protest peacefully without you police officers threatening us! You can take your hand off of the baton, officer," declared one protestor.
After a 30-minute demonstration in front of the police officers, the protestors began to march from the Lincoln Tunnel to the heart of Times Square. It was during this time that I came to the realization that there are people who really do not understand why people protest and demonstrate. I witnessed what I deemed to be heinous acts being performed by outliers throughout the march. Some people threw eggs at the protestors from their apartment complexes as protestors walked by, and some motorists revved their engines and yelled obscene remarks, but these acts of hate happened momentarily, and protestors kept their peaceful, nonviolent approaches and stayed together as a collective.
As the marched continued through the streets, I saw people from different backgrounds dedicated to the idea of creating change -- change that, at the bare minimum, indicts police officers for killing unarmed, black men and women. "Black lives matter!" people chanted as we approached 42nd Street. I realized that many people understand race relations in America and how our current systems is not reflective of true "liberty and justice for all." A white protestor said, "If you look at the hashtag #CrimingWhileWhite, you will see how unjust our world is. Why do white people get away with crimes and black people die for them?" The protestors began to rally in front of the ruby-red TKTS bleachers and discuss their concerns with the officers who were present.
"Is this what a man's life comes down to? A loosey?" asked a protestor, holding a cigarette in hand. Another protestor in the crowd said, "I fear for my father, my brother and my boyfriend. What are you going to do? Can you stop killing our people?" The police officers stood and tried their best not to make eye contact. A black officer approached the crowd, and a protestor asked, "Are you ashamed of your job? Are you ashamed that you are taking orders from a man who would kill you if you didn't have that suit on?" And the crowd began to chant, "Are you ashamed?" as the officer tried his best to hold back tears of what seemed to be guilt.
I asked a sergeant how he felt about the situation, and he stated, "It is unfortunate. My prayers are with the Garner family. It really is sad." I continued the conversation with him about what we can do to change the way police officers interact with the community and how we can ensure that these killings do not occur anymore. He stated, "I believe we all need to put everything out on the table. This is not the right way to do it. We need everyone to come together to create sensible solutions," and a protestor from behind said, "You all caused this. This is your fault. If you treat us like human beings, we wouldn't be in this situation. Our lives mean something."
For about an hour, protestors chanted in Times Square, and the rally eventually dwindled out around midnight. Once the rally was over, I began to think about what protesting meant in the now. What did the anguish experienced by participants demonstrate about the will of the people to create systemic change? What did the endurance to bypass the cold weather and agitators illustrate about the people's passion about the injustices they see? What does this neo-civil-rights/human-rights movement mean to the future?
Although the answers to these questions may vary, history has shown us that a realignment will occur. It truly is up to this "millennial" generation to continue to sketch out exactly what it is that it wants, and that begins with the understanding that black lives matter, and all lives matter. Protestor Ain Ealey, from Atlanta, was in New York Wednesday night and indicated that this was the most diverse protest she had ever been to. There is room for all of us to continue to take an active role no matter our racial identity: Protest, attend community meetings, support organizations doing work on the ground and stay abreast of the issues plaguing our communities, nation and world. There's plenty to do, so I ask: What will you do, or do more of?