Several hundred protesters marched from Union Square to Times Square yesterday to protest the killing of two black men at the hands of police in Louisiana and Minnesota.
“I’m here to bring attention to mass slayings of black men,” said Mutiya Vision, an author and mother of three from Brooklyn. “I don’t want them to inherit a world where going outside while black is punishable by death.”
One of her three sons, Messiah, who is 12, was at his first Black Lives Matter march. “It’s annoying,” he said, referring to fatal shootings of civilians by the police. “It’s always happening. This week it was two in two days.”
Alton Sterling was shot by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, while selling CDs in front of a store, and Philando Castile was killed during a routine traffic stop near Minneapolis, Minnesota, a death the governor of that state has condemned. Both gruesome incidents were caught on camera. Their deaths marked the 558th and 559th incidents where people have been killed by police nationwide this year.
According to an NYPD spokesperson, 42 people were arrested during the demonstration. Thursday night’s protest happened hours before gunmen killed five police officers and wounded others at a similar protest in Dallas, Texas.
Around 7 p.m., roughly two hours after the demonstration began, a group of people coalesced in Times Square near the corner of 42nd Street and 7th Avenue where they continued to chant and stage a brief sit-in, blocking traffic. The NYPD’s Strategic Response Group — dozens of cops with batons and plastic handcuffs — began making arrests.
Here cop lunges at man in orange & it escalates fast. Cops had said leave street but seemed to calm, ppl were moving pic.twitter.com/EukZi3zfLG
— alex neason (@alexandrianeas) July 8, 2016
The peaceful march began as a small rally in Union Square, and grew by the hundreds within the hour.
In Union Square, activists yelled into a bullhorn, encouraging police reform and chanting: “No justice! No peace! No racist police!” and “Black Lives Matter!” Signs spelled out the names of Castile, Sterling, and other black men and women who have been killed by police over the last several years — including Eric Garner and Sean Bell, each killed by NYPD officers, in 2014 and 2006, respectively. Attendees stood huddled together, sweating in the brutal evening heat. Some fanned themselves and others wiped their faces often with towels. Shoppers peered out at the crowd from the sweeping glass windows of a Whole Foods cafeteria, taking photos and videos. A chopper hovered above their heads.
Joshua Lopez was nearly brought to tears as he spoke of his uncle John Collado, who was killed in front of his building by an undercover cop in Inwood in 2011 while trying to break up a fight between the officer and another man. He and others urged for more frequent and disruptive protests.
From the back of the crowd, Tadaa Jackson, 26, yelled over the speeches. “I am tired of marching! What are we going to do? What are we going to do?” she cried.
The crowd swelled out of the park and moved west along 14th Street, breaking north on 5th Avenue, where people spilled off the sidewalks and into the street, blocking traffic. A woman on a bike, carrying a small dog in a basket, rode ahead of the march, from intersection to intersection, using her hand to block traffic, making way for the crowd. Police walked alongside them in quiet procession.
Sebastian Iturria said he needed to be at the march because the next victim could be him.
“Cops have a fixed target and they kill black people. Every cop I have encountered in the United States has been aggressive and the deaths of every black man and woman are important,” said Iturria, 22, a native of Montevideo, Uruguay, now living in Brooklyn. “The numbers are ridiculous,” he said. His voice was hoarse from shouting.
For some New Yorkers, the last several years have served as an awakening.
“I’ve been quietly seething. I am a black man. I feel like a target,” said Tai Odunsi, an illustrator from Brooklyn. “To me, this is retribution. I’m not walking for the cure. I’m walking for my life.”