Demonstrators surged over the Manhattan Bridge on Tuesday night to protest a grand jury’s decision not to charge white Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson with any crimes for shooting black teen Michael Brown dead in August.
A thousand protesters poured over the roadway of the bridge from Manhattan around 8:45 pm on Tuesday night. Police officers turned back an earlier attempt to cross the Williamsburg Bridge, and one clubbed a reporter for this paper in the stomach in the process. A Bronx mom, marching towards the head of the crowd on the Manhattan-bound Manhattan Bridge roadway with her 9- and 10-year-old daughter and son, said she wanted them to grow up in a world where Wilson’s actions could not go unpunished.
“I’m here because I want justice for my kids,” Taisha Herrera said.
Most motorists temporarily stranded on the span remained quiet behind the wheel, though two got into screaming matches with activists, while others got out of their cars and held their hands up in support of the chant “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” that has become a signature of Ferguson protests nationwide.
When they reached Flatbush Avenue Extension, the small group at the head of the spread-out procession waited on additional marchers to swell its ranks. It then continued on to the Barclays Center, taking up the width of the thoroughfare for blocks, and upon arriving outside the arena, participants sat in the roadway at Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue for four minutes, in symbolic commemoration of the four hours Brown’s body lay in the street after his death.
The march then continued down Flatbush and turned onto Park Place into Prospect Heights, where rabble-rousers shouted “Join us!” to onlookers on their stoops, garnering scattered cheers in response. Police walked alongside this portion of the march with their batons drawn, but did not respond to copious curses directed at them, and made no move to curtail the protest.
The long walk, five and a half miles from the starting point at Union Square in Manhattan, ended at Fulton Street and Nostrand Avenue. There some of the 500 remaining protesters delivered speeches on a megaphone.
One Bedford-Stuyvesant resident was thrilled to be reunited with the march after breaking off from it earlier in the evening.
“I was at a march in lower Manhattan, took the subway home, and when I got off the subway what did I see? Another f------ march!” Amir Badal said.
Badal pledged that the marches were not over, pointing to plans by the Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee, which called the evening’s demonstration, to disrupt Black Friday.
“We’re not done! We’re gonna black out Black Friday!” he said.
Police did not arrest any of the Brooklyn protesters, according to a spokeswoman.
The demonstration followed road-blocking civil disobedience on the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges early Tuesday morning, which also went off without arrests, according to reports.
Police Commissioner William Bratton explained the hands-off policing of the un-permitted protests to the Associated Press by saying, “as long as they remain nonviolent, and as long as they don’t engage in issues that cause fear or create vandalism, we will work with them to allow them to demonstrate.”
And between the surges of demonstrators, at noon, civil rights organizations staged a formal rally in front of the federal courthouse facing Cadman Plaza. About 40 protesters turned out to that demonstration, calling on federal prosecutors to investigate the case and bring civil rights charges against Wilson.
“Police officers need to be held accountable,” said Thomas Kimble, a Crown Heights pastor. “If our youth get shot down, where is our future?”
The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network organized the demonstration, which also included members of New York Communities for Change.
Wilson, in newly released grand jury testimony, maintained that the unarmed Brown trapped him in his patrol car and attacked him on Aug. 9, saying that the 6-foot-4 18-year-old “looked like a demon” and made him fear for his life. Wilson, also 6-foot-4 but 50 pounds lighter, described a struggle over his gun that he said “felt like a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” Wilson fired 12 shots at Brown, killing him.
Surveillance video showed Brown stealing cigarillos from a convenience store and shoving a clerk shortly before the fatal encounter.
Prosecutor Robert McCulloch prefaced the decision not to charge Wilson on Monday evening by denouncing social media, journalists, and the activists who have made the fatal shooting a persistent, national issue. In an unusual step, McCulloch chose to present a litany of evidence to the grand jury rather than recommending an indictment, as prosecutors usually do.
The Ferguson decision comes on the heels of police killings closer to home, including the choking death of Gowanus native Eric Garner on Staten Island, and the shooting of Red Hook resident Akai Gurley by a rookie cop in the stairwell of an East New York public housing development last week. A grand jury is weighing whether to charge the officer who a coroner determined choked Garner to death when Garner objected to being “harassed” as officers stopped him on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes. Police chief Bill Bratton described Gurley as a “complete innocent” and his death as an “unfortunate accident.”
Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–East Flatbush) appeared at the Tuesday afternoon demonstration, voicing solidarity with the group’s frustration over the decision, but also calling for calm in the wake of riots in Ferguson on Monday night.
“The rallying cry is always going to be justice and equity,” he said. “But we also need to have peaceful protests.”
A pair of Brooklyn Law School students from Cobble Hill joined the activists. They were disappointed in the decision, but from a legal perspective.
“It’s not that he was found innocent,” said Cam Thomas. ”The grand jury is saying we shouldn’t even ask the question.”
Thomas’s classmate, Ohanes Kalayjia, said the problem runs deeper than just the legal system.
“An unjust murder has been found legal,” he said. “You can look at the laws and procedures, but that would be ignoring the fact that institutional racism exists.”