They marched into Manhattan, where the New York Police Department shot and killedPatrick Dorismond.
In Queens, where the NYPD fired 50 bullets atSean Bell.
In the Bronx, where an NYPD police officer strangled him to deathAnthony Baez.
In Brooklyn, where the NYPD fired onNicholas Heyward Jr, aged 13.
And they marched on Staten Island, where the NYPD took his breath away fromEric Garner.
Nearly 2000Protesters were arrested in five nights when the largest American city joined the national mobilization against police brutality. A movement in nearly 140 cities. A mass agitation such that this country has not experienced for more than a generation.
There were times in New York when there was a sense that this multiracial coalition of protesters, led mainly by young people of color, was taking over the streets of the NYPD, a police force larger than some armies that has terrorized black and brown residents since its inception.
There was a sense that more and more people here had come to question the cops’ monopoly on force and embrace the radical idea of cut the funds police service, or even the policeabolitionist dream of a New York without New York’s Finest (nickname we give to the police of the vile) at all.
That’s how New York’s Finest exploded with violence.
Videos of the tumult have gone viral. A rolling copfast in a patrol car in the midst of a crowd of protesters. A cop removing a man’s mask — worn to protect himself from coronavirus — and thecayenne pepper spray to the face. Another using a door toHit A man. One of thempointing a gun protesters. Another onePushing a woman on the ground so strong that she madeConvulsions. And another said”Shoot those bastards.” on the police radio frequency. And the list is long.
I saw police brutalizing and arresting people before being violently arrested myself.
And yet, as of Monday, June 1, the Democratic governor of New York, the city’s mayor and the country’s Republican president had agreed onSolutionsSimilar to all this unrest: to suppress this historic uprising with more armed agents of the state.
For the protesters, it seemed that their government had still not heard them, and had probably never listened to them in the first place.
“The only fucking way they understand”
On Saturday, in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, thousands of people gathered in front of the Parkside Avenue subway station in the afternoon sun for a series of speeches before the day’s marches. People were at the windows and dressing in “Black Lives Matter” banners on the emergency stairs while listening to the speakers downstairs.
A man named Kerbe Joseph asks the crowd on a megaphone: “Do you know how shitty it is to turn on the news and see another nigger who looks like you dead?” (sic).
“If you’re white,” Joseph adds, “and you’re not in the crowd, not on the line of fire, or on the roof shouting ‘Black lives matter’ in New York… So get out of the way!”
Joseph and the other speakers, all black or Hispanic or Native American, invoked the names of Americans whose recent murders have sparked protests in dozens of cities across the country: Breonna Taylor, which police fired in Louisville, Kentucky;Ahmaud Arbery shot while jogging in Georgia by a former policeman and his son; AndGeorge Floyd, killed in Minneapolis on May 25, when a police officer pressed a knee in Floyd’s neck while squeezing him like a vice.
“We are George!” shouted the crowd.
Constance Malcolm, mother ofRamarley Graham, 18, killed by NYPD in 2012, was joined in the gallery by his son Chinoor Campbell, who was just 6 years old when he saw a white police officer shoot his unarmed older brother in his own home.
A few years ago, Malcolm showed me the blood-stained bath mat she kept on a shelf in her house, ever since the cop’s bullet tore his son’s heart apart. She couldn’t bring herself to throw it away, she said.
Malcolm has participated in many demonstrations against police brutality in this city, and I visited her once while sheslept on the sidewalk outside a Justice Department building in Manhattan, to call for a civil rights investigation into the murder of his son.
But in front of the crowd in Flatbush on Saturday, Malcolm argued that such non-violent actions simply did not accomplish what needs to be accomplished.
“We see all the looting and burning of buildings and everything that happens, and they call us thugs,” Malcolm said, referring to allunstable protests across the country, especially in Minneapolis, where protesters ransacked and thenBurned a police station.
“I don’t condone fires and all that,” she continued, “but that’s the only fucking way they understand!”
The crowd began to rumble. A short time later, Malcolm grabbed a banner that read “Justice for George Floyd,” his son by his side, and led the crowd as they began to march through the streets.
Chants of “Who keeps us safe? We ensure our own safety!” and “NYPD, suck my dick!” and “Fuck the police!” filled Flatbush Avenue.
The locals — many of whom were stranded in their homes, out of work and sheltered from the Covid-19 epidemic, which devastated predominantly black and brown working-class neighbourhoods like Flatbush — crowded onto the sidewalks to observe and sometimes join the march in turn.
An old man inside a bodega explained to another old man what walking was, pointing to his knee and then his neck.
People in cars — including health workers in a garbage truck, or drivers of Flatbush’s “dollar vans,” who are regularlyHarassed by the New York Police Department because they offer cheap travel to residents of a neighborhood where the subway is underdeveloped — honked their horns to encourage protesters.
Workers at the car shops came out of their hangars to dance and raise their fists in solidarity. A weeping woman shouted “I love you all” out of the window of her fourth-floor apartment.
Protesters marched through the blocks. A black organizer rebuked the white protesters, asking them to stay in the back, so that black and brown voices would remain on the front line.
Some in the crowd didn’t want to talk to reporters, and why would they? The predominantly white local and national press has often fostered fear of black New Yorkers or served as a reporter for the New York Police Department.
On Saturday, as the day lays, some protesters set fire to the first NYPD vehicle, a patrol car. The flames erupted from the windows, just above the car stickers declaring “courtesy, professionalism and respect” of the police department. Protesters warned others not to get too close in case the car exploded.
Police officers in riot gear pushed back the protesters. A fire truck arrived, extinguished the fire and left. Battle lines were then formed.
The NYPD stood in a row in the middle of the street, near a Shell gas station. The protesters formed a line in front of them. Black and white protesters called on white protesters to join the front line. The white protesters obeyed.
A cycle then set in: the protesters threw projectiles at the cops — glass bottles, stones, and sometimes fireworks — and then the cops charged into the crowd, plated and arrested the protesters before dragging them to the police vans waiting for them. Then both sides resumed their positions.
Michael, a Brooklyn lawyer, stood on the sidewalk for a brief break with his friend Jerome. They did not reveal their last names.
“The violence did not begin with police cars on fire or glass bottles flying through the air,” Mi said.Chael. “The police themselves started the violence a long time ago.”
“Every other week, every other day, we hear another story about a black man being shot or a black woman shot, and that’s not fair, and then they get away with it, and now that’s enough,” Michael said.
“We’re tired, and, no, we don’t want to be here destroying police cars and destroying our own neighborhoods, but that’s the way to — ” continued Michael before his friend Jerome interrupted him.
I’m tired of hearing this about ‘we’re destroying our own community’, Jerome said. Stop telling us that we are destroying our own community. We have absolutely nothing of what lies here, damn it!”
Throughout the day, some demonstrators held up signs calling forcut off NYPD’s food supplies, a measure that has begun to emerge among the radical left to gradually take up more space in recent years. The idea is to reallocate much of the police department’s huge $6 billion annual budget and invest it instead in housing, employment, health services (including mental health) and other non-police solutions to public safety issues.
“Imagine that all that money, or some of that money, was redistributed to communities, to disused schools, to our health care system,” Michael told me as police prepared to lay new charges. “Like, why not! It is the communities that need it, and yet we do not see that. We just see police cars patrolling.”
Around us the police were getting more and more angry. When they charged this time, a white policeman shouted “Come here, fuckers! Sluts!” while chasing a young black man.
A woman who told me her name was Jennifer L. yelled at a police officer who had just dumped and arrested a protester.
“They have no reason to be afraid,” she said in a trembling voice. “We should haveAfraid! We should be afraid! What are they afraid of? Oh, a few bottles. A few bottles?! What if it was a knee? What if it was a knee on the neck?!”
Nearby, a young white couple stood, stunned and silent, holding hands and looking away through all the chaos. Their coronavirus masks were stained with baking soda, used to counter pepper spray that had left their eyes red and irritated. They had been manhandled during the last police charge, they said. A police officer punched the woman in the stomach with a baton.
They refused to tell me their names. “Our names don’t matter in this whole case,” the man said. “The only names that need to be repeated are those of lives lost.”
Then, each time the cops charged, the protesters gathered, staring at their heavily armed attackers, preparing for the next assault. They sang, “Say his name! Breonna Taylor!” and “Say her name! George Floyd!”
They taunted the cops by singing “NYPD, suck my dick!” and climbed to the top of a bus abandoned in the street by its driver, arms outstretched as if, for a moment, the city where they lived actually belonged to them.
The battle lines began to become clearer. The cops began chasing the protesters along Church Avenue, while the helicopters circled overhead, sometimes shining their spotlight on the scattered scrums.
I started filming the police charge as I backed away with a group of retreating protesters, my press card hanging from my neck.
A cop in the middle of a sprint walked up to me and hit me on the shoulder as I passed. He shouted “Get out of my way” when there was plenty of room around me.
I had watched the cops bully young New Yorkers all day, pressing their faces in the concrete and cursing them. I was very upset.
“Fuck you, ” I told the cop.
He suddenly stopped charging the protesters and came back to me, sticking a baton in my chest and hitting me against the sidewalk.
I don’t know how many cops piled up on me, but there were a lot of them. A knee or a foot pressed my head and neck on the concrete. Hands were pulling on my legs and arms, spreading them in different directions while different voices were making incongruous demands.
“Put your left hand behind your back!” My body was twisted, and it was impossible for me to do so. “Stop resisting!” I couldn’t resist.
I asked them to look at my press card. I told them I was a journalist. I begged them to get my phone back, which had fallen out of my hands during the arrest.
“Shut up,” a cop told me.
When they handcuffed me and lifted me up, a white cop, without a mask and with rage in his eyes, approached a few inches from my face. “Fucking asshole,” he told me.
Again and again, with my press card clearly visible on my neck, I begged the police to take my phone, worried about losing so much of what I had documented that day. The cops refused, leaving him in the street before escorting me to the police van.
I thought to myself: If that’s how they treat a white journalist…
This article was originally published on the American edition of the HuffPost.
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