When the weather warms up, people hit the streets. Nothing could exemplify that statement more than the vigorous rebirth of Black Lives Matter for the #ShutDownA14 action that took place Tuesday. Organized by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, the rally drew approximately 400 people out on a cloudy afternoon as speakers from the Revolutionary Communist Party took turns calling for an end to the prison-industrial complex. When Dr. Cornel West took the stand he decried the 500 year violence against black bodies and reminded the crowd to not “trust black faces in high places.” The President, the Attorney General, and Director of Homeland Security, all black, have done very little to reign in police terror. The rhetoric at this rally seemed much more militant than previous actions during the winter probably fueled by the recent medical neglect of Mumia Abu-Jamal in Pennsylvania and the killing of Walter Scott in South Carolina.
The march took off down Broadway led by a large canvas tent dislaying the portraits and names of police violence victims including Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Akai Gurley. Marchers chanted “Fuck the Police,” “Fist Up, Fight Back,” and likened the NYPD to the KKK. The protest snaked through Manhattan engaging in die-ins at various intersections before eventually reaching One Police Plaza. At this point, activists dispersed in multiple directions storming the plaza and occupying the streets around City Hall. Officers panicked as they struggled to maintain order and predict the spontaneity of the crowd. Wrapping around the corridors of the plaza, the march spilled back into the street and engaged in pitched battles with the cops over control of the Brooklyn Bridge. Activists scaled a fence to reach the Bridge walkway then shut down the Manhattan-bound traffic. The march split between those on the street and those who remained on the walkway to keep tabs on the police.
We ran ahead to the Brooklyn side of the bridge to discover two lines of stormtroopers goose-stepping through traffic toward comrades on the street. The police wasted no time exacting brutal arrests of protestors as many scaled the 12 foot high barrier to escape the melee. A 14-year old girl was reportedly slammed to the pavement and an undercover officer allegedly drew his gun on activists throwing bottles at the police. The arrested were herded into police vans at the base of the bridge.
The remaining protestors regrouped then blockaded the police vans demanding release of their comrades. The police took formation and steadily pushed protestors back arresting stragglers who fell to the ground. Activists dragged traffic cylinders and trash cans into the street but proved to be ineffective as the mass wall of cops broke the blockade dispersing the protestors.
The protestors regrouped downtown and then led a sizeable march down Flatbush Avenue toward the Barclays Center. Activists continued to denounce the NYPD as racist and militant Black Panther chants caught on with the larger contingent. The police attempted to reign in the protest with orange netting multiple times but the fluidity of the march denied them that success. However, the gloves came off as the march neared Grand Army Plaza and the police pulled out all their tactics to disperse the crowd.
An army of police supported by vans and cruisers chased the protestors onto the sidewalk where they then targeted specific individuals for arrest. Batons came out as officers ruthless assaulted livestreamers, organizers, and militant activists. Police slammed a young man into the window of a gym as another officer threw a young woman to the ground breaking her ribs. That woman was later taken to hospital without arrest. The police continued to isolate, assault and arrest activists of their choosing even those who lawfully obeyed orders to remain on the sidewalk. By 7:00pm, the protest numbers had dwindled significantly.
A handful of activists came together and confronted the police outside the 78th Precinct on Bergen Street. The confrontation lasted well into the night as protestors showed solidarity with their arrested comrades demanding their immediate release and denouncing the violence committed against the march that day.
Overall, the action was successful in shutting down sections of the city, disrupting business as usual and garnering ample media coverage. It should be noted that the march was completely nonviolent and protestors did not fight back until the police began assaulting and brutalizing activists. For many veteran activists, the level of violence brought back memories of Occupy and the targeting of specific protestors and journalists shows that the NYPD is upping its game in its quest to quell the Spring resurgence of Black Lives Matter. The most significant observation remains that this march, along with smaller actions earlier in the month, was much more militant and angrier than previous actions especially those organized by the Justice League. This shows that the grassroots are much more radical and have a clearer sociological imagination than the black misleadership class that purports to represent the movement. It will be interesting to see how these tactics evolve and expand as the Black Lives Matter protests continue into the Summer.