As we began to look back on 2014 for our last issue of this year, we found it awfully hard to see past the demonstrators.
All of December has seemed like one long protest, with thousands clogging New York’s streets (and bridges) night after night. Most came out to decry a grand jury decision that cleared an NYPD officer in the death of a man whose only crime appeared to be selling untaxed cigarettes. (Some came out to decry the protests.)
The fate of 43-year-old Staten Island resident Eric Garner twinned to that of Michael Brown, a young man from a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Each was killed by a cop following an alleged minor offense. In each case the cop was white, the victim black and unarmed. Each death resulted in a grand jury proceeding that yielded no charges.
The year’s final weekend brought images of uniformed cops turning their backs en masse on Mayor Bill de Blasio as he eulogized Rafael Ramos, one of two NYPD officers shot to death in cold blood in Brooklyn by a man claiming to seek to avenge the killings of Garner and Brown.
But page farther back through the calendar and you’ll find more discontent in New York, by no means limited to police or race. LGBT activists demanded inclusion in the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. Writers called attention to the fact that the Chinese government forbade artist Ai Weiwei to travel to Brooklyn, where a museum had mounted an exhibition of his work. Pot smokers turned out (and lit up) for legalization. Supporters of alleged cop assaulter Cecily McMillan made themselves heard. Critical Mass. Anti-Israel. Pro-Israel. People’s Climate. Flood Wall Street. Fast-food workers’ rights. Close Gitmo…
Perhaps this year has been an aberration. But New Yorkers have a historical propensity to protest. The area’s first documented protest dates back, after all, to December 27, 1657, when 30 Queens residents asserted their religious freedom. In a document that came to be known as the Flushing Remonstrance, they petitioned Peter Stuyvesant, the provincial director general, who had outlawed Quaker worship. “You have been pleased to send unto us a certain prohibition or command that we should not receive or entertain any of those people called Quakers because they are supposed to be, by some, seducers of the people,” they wrote. “We desire therefore in this case not to judge least we be judged, neither to condemn least we be condemned, but rather let every man stand or fall to his own Master.”
Stuyvesant didn’t take kindly to the petition, and arrests were made. So one might say the Flushing protesters did not achieve their goal.
At least not right away.
View this week’s photo-essay feature story, The Year in Protests.