Letter from the US: Nationwide protests target police killers

Protest against police brutality in New York, August 23.

Thousands marched in Staten Island, New York City, on August 23 to protest against the police murder of an unarmed Black man, Eric Garner, in July.

The action was led by Reverend Al Sharpton, who has been outspoken against police brutality since the killing.

The marchers were inspired by the mass protests in Ferguson, Missouri, against the murder of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by police. They took up the chant of the Ferguson protesters ― “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”

Garner, a 43-year-old African American father of six, was choked to death by police. His crime? The police charge he was selling “loose cigarettes” on the street.

They placed him in an illegal chokehold, wrestled him to the ground, and ignored his cries of “I can’t breathe”. He died of asphyxiation.

Some marchers had signs reading, “I can’t breathe”.

The killing was filmed on a mobile phone by Ramsey Orta and was aired on national TV. For reasons still unclear, the police later arrested Orta and his wife.

At the march, Democracy Now! journalist and presenter Amy Goodman interviewed Garner’s daughter, Erica.

“My dad was a loving man,” she said. “He was a humble man, and he was a nice man … He did whatever he could for anybody who came around him …

“Seeing the videotape, I was very traumatised. I was very, like, horrified. It was horrible.

“Just seeing my father die on national TV was just horrible. I’ve got to live with this forever.”

Referring to the large march, she said: “My father’s voice is being heard, and, you know, we’re standing as one. Everybody’s coming together for the right cause.”

A 12-year-old boy held a sign referring to some of the many Black young men police and vigilantes have killed across the country. It read: “No justice, no peace. Rest in peace, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Travon Martin, Sean Bell, all the fallen soldiers.”

One girl was asked what she hoped the protest would achieve. She replied: “To live until I’m 18 and not get shot. You want to get older. You want to experience life.

“You don’t want to die in a matter of seconds because of cops.”

The march was endorsed by two unions, the United Federation of Teachers and Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union.

Some racist members of both unions attacked this decision, claiming to support their “union brothers” in the police.

Police are recruited largely from the working class, but they are trained and hardened to be foes of the working class. Their role as strikebreakers is just one way this is manifested.

In response to the march, two days later, the police Sergeants Benevolent Association took out large ads in the New York Times and New York Post attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The NYT said on August 26: “In the weeks since Garner’s death, some officers have chafed at the elevated profile of the Rev. Al Sharpton, who led thousands of people protesting police tactics …

“Though [the ad] did not mention Mr. Sharpton by name, it criticized Mr. de Blasio for offering a ‘public platform to the loudest of the city’s antisafety agitators.’”

The day the ad appeared, Sharpton was in Ferguson to attend Brown's funeral. About 2500 packed into the sanctuary of the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church to say goodbye.

A further 2000 people were in overflow rooms and hundreds more were outside, singing “We Shall Overcome”.

Brown’s casket was topped by red roses. This echoed the hundreds of roses laid on the street where he was killed, along with the red Cardinal’s baseball cap he wore when he was shot.

The families of Trayvon Martin and Sean Bell were in attendance, joining the Brown family.

Martin was the unarmed Black teenager murdered by a racist vigilante in Florida in 2012. The killer was found “not guilty” in a travesty of a trial.

Bell, another unarmed young Black man, was killed by police in 2006. He was one of three men shot at a total of 50 times by New York police ― killing Bell on the morning before his wedding and severely wounding two of his friends.

Three of the five detectives involved in the shooting were tried and found not guilty.

Martin’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump, spoke at Brown’s funeral. He recalled the infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court decision of 162 years ago that upheld slavery. It declared that Blacks were not citizens or even people covered by “We the People” in the Declaration of Independence.

In one of history’s ironies, Scott is buried on the same street in Ferguson where Brown was shot.

Sharpton told the funeral: “This is about justice. This is about fairness.”

The crowd rose to its feet with shouts of agreement when he continued: “America is going to have to come to terms with [the fact] there’s something wrong that we have money to give military equipment to police forces, but we don’t have money for public education and money to train our children …

“How do you think we look [to the world] when young people marched nonviolently asking for the land of the free and the home of the brave to hear their cry, and you put snipers on the roof and pointed guns at them?”

Sharpton referred to the fact that in a three-week span, footage emerged showing an unarmed Black woman in California flat on the ground while a highway patrol officer knelt on her and punched her 15 times, the killing of Garner, and Brown’s body lying on the ground for four hours after being shot to death.

After Brown's funeral, the procession was greeted by people lining the street on the way to the graveyard, with their hands above their heads, repeating the rallying cry: “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”

The next day and night, there was a continuation of the peaceful protests in Ferguson ― peaceful because, this time, the police did not attack.

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