Protests Spread Across Country After Garner Decision
Protesters Disrupt Traffic, Shopping in Major Cities; Demonstrations Become More Organized, With Goals
|People protest at the University of Michigan Law Library in Ann Arbor on Friday. Associated Press|
It was the latest in a wave of demonstrations that have become increasingly sophisticated and organized, with specific goals, as organic protests have transformed—in fits and starts—into what many organizers hope will become a durable movement.
On Friday, protesters took to the streets again in cities included New York, Chicago, Boston and others. In Cambridge, Mass., thousands of people marched from Tufts University to Harvard Square in a protest organized through a Facebook campaign. Dozens of protesters staged a die-in, blocking an intersection by lying on the road.
In Cleveland, expecting a crowd at the Public Square, city police encouraged commuters to leave work early on Friday to smooth rush hour traffic. Pittsburgh streets were temporarily blocked by marchers, who had converged on Forbes Avenue and headed toward Fifth Avenue.
In Jefferson City, Mo., chants of “Hands Up. Don’t Shoot!” echoed through the Missouri Capitol as hundreds of people protesting Michael Brown’s death in August rallied after the culmination of a week-long, 130-mile march from the site of the police shooting in Ferguson, the Associated Press reported.
Protesters converged Friday on some of New York City’s most famous business centers. Hundreds of people chanting and holding signs entered the Macy’s store on Herald Square. They stopped for about four minutes and laid on the floor. The group soon exited chanting “if we don’t get it shut it down!”
New York City police made several arrests on Friday evening after protesters clambered onto FDR Drive -- one of Manhattan’s busiest arteries -- and halted traffic. Some protesters fled, climbing a fence for a riverside park with police officers in pursuit.
It was the third straight day of demonstrations in New York, after a Staten Island grand jury delivered its decision. On Thursday night, the movement showed its sophistication as thousands of people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, chanting slogans and later lying down in protest. Organizers wore headsets to communicate, and marchers came with cardboard coffins bearing the names of alleged victims of police violence.
Protesters were still gathering on the fly in some cities, but in other places it is clear that protesters have become organized in the months after spontaneous protests erupted over the death of Mr. Brown, the black 18-year-old shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
Protesters are setting concrete goals and gaining the attention of top political and police officials.
“We want to change policy. We want to change law,” said Teressa Raiford, who helps lead an Oregon coalition called Don’t Shoot Portland that organizers intend to turn into a formal, nonprofit group. “We’re working toward sustainability, creating an infrastructure that will not move.”
After the first Ferguson demonstrations, protesters there formed a network that grew into what is now called Ferguson Action. Among other things, it maintains a website that catalogs upcoming protests nationwide by date and place.
Ferguson Action allows for organic protest but provides basic coordination, said Mervyn Marcano, spokesman for the group. Organizers are now agreeing on locations for protest actions and setting up support squads to provide bail after arrests.
Many protest groups have specific policy goals. The New York group This Stops Today lists five, including “full accountability” for Mr. Garner’s death; a Justice Department investigation of use-of-force policies by New York City police; and passage of a “Right to Know Act’’ that, among other things, would require police to explain the reason for any enforcement activity and explain the legal basis for any searches.
Young people in Florida have succeeded in turning protests around the 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin into a permanent organization. Dream Defenders now has 10 chapters across the state and a $300,000 annual budget. The group lobbies and demonstrates for criminal justice, education and other issues. “We are participating in democracy in absolutely every way possible,” said spokesman Steven Pargett.
The Ferguson Action website lists several goals, including “demilitarization” of law enforcement, a congressional hearing on alleged racial profiling by police and creation of a National Plan of Action for Racial Justice.
This fall’s protesters already have attracted high-level attention: This week, President Barack Obama met with young activists in the protests in Ferguson and elsewhere. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo , a Democrat, said he would push legislative changes, including perhaps the use of special prosecutors and police body cameras.
“A justice system that is colorblind—you have a large number of people in this country who don’t believe that’s the case, and that’s the fundamental problem,” Mr. Cuomo said Friday on NBC.
This fall, the protests have been more organic. On Wednesday night, after the Staten Island grand jury decision, some 150 or 200 people stood in the middle of a Washington, D.C., intersection, and anyone from the crowd could take a turn at the microphone. The event was organized through social media and word of mouth.
“Various encampments were talking to each other, but nobody was commanding much of anything,” said Todd Gitlin, a sociology and communications professor at Columbia University and author of a book about the Occupy movement. Partly as a result, he said, the drive fell apart after the occupations ended. “It doesn’t have any staying power.”
There is one major difference between that movement and those today: Occupy protesters cared about a diffuse set of causes, and the movement refused to issue any specific demands. The current protests have a clearer agenda focused on changing police practices.
The wide range of issues was “the gift and the curse of Occupy Wall Street,” said Daniel “Majesty” Sanchez, who participated in Occupy Wall Street and helped organize Thursday’s march.
“The second you start to get super-focused on a particular issue, you might lose someone who is like, `You know, I’m all about labor rights.’”
—Ben Kesling, Felicia Schwartz, Erica Orden and Mark Morales contributed to this article.
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