Black Youth-Organized Millions March NYC Draws Tens of Thousands in Movement's Biggest Protest Yet

December 15, 2014

Saturday’s nationwide actions against police killings and racial profiling included a "Millions March" that drew tens of thousands to the streets of New York City. It was the largest single protest of the post-Ferguson movement and the culmination of daily actions in New York City since a grand jury elected not to indict the police officer who killed Eric Garner. After gathering in Washington Square Park, a massive crowd spanned dozens of city blocks as it marched uptown before turning around and closing at police headquarters downtown. Democracy Now!’s Aaron Maté and Samantha Riddell were in the streets to speak to the protesters who came out, and the young black organizers who made it happen.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Saturday’s actions across the country included a Millions March that drew tens of thousands to the streets of New York. A massive crowd took over the streets after gathering in Washington Square Park, heading uptown before turning around and closing at police headquarters downtown. A smaller group of thousands then broke off to march across the Brooklyn Bridge. Democracy Now!’s Aaron Maté and Samantha Riddell were in the streets of New York for the Millions March. They filed this report.

PROTESTERS: Eric Garner, Michael Brown! Shut it down! Shut it down! For Eric Garner, Michael Brown! Shut it down! Shut it down! For Eric Garner, Michael Brown! Shut it down! Shut it down!

AARON MATÉ: There have been actions every single day here in New York City since a grand jury elected not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the killing of Eric Garner. But none are bigger than this Millions March behind me, thousands here in Washington Square Park, marching throughout the city to demand justice in the case of Eric Garner and scores of other unpunished and unprosecuted police killings of unarmed African Americans across the country.

PROTESTERS: No justice, no peace!

LAKISHA REVELS: Hi, my name is Lakisha Revels. I’m here because black lives matter. And my sign basically says that black lives matter, and on the other side it says, "The color of my skin does not determine the validity of my life." I’m a human being first. And when you see me, treat me and respect me that way. We want to work with the police, but the police have to understand how to police me in my neighborhood.

AALIYAH JIHAD: My name’s Aaliyah Jihad, and I’m here because all the names of the people who have died over the last however many years is ridiculous and appalling, and I feel like if this is the part that I can do, I have no choice but to do it.

PROTESTERS: Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

MICHAEL HEADLEY: My name is Michael Headley, and I’m with the organization Millions March NYC. We’re calling for the immediate indictment of Pantaleo. I’m sorry, that’s just unreasonable. It’s unreasonable to think that someone would do something like that and we have a system that allows him to get away with it. So, we would like an independent office for the prosecutor to investigate these crimes. Any time this happens, any when someone dies in custody, it should be investigated, period. It does not matter. It should be investigated. There should not be a grand jury; it should be a trial, because a loss of life occurred, period.

PROTESTERS: I can’t breathe!

T’AI FREEDOM FORD: My name is T’ai Freedom Ford. I’m a black New York City educator, and I’m tired of seeing black people who look like my students get gunned down for no [bleep] reason.

AARON MATÉ: Were you surprised when Officer Pantaleo wasn’t indicted for Eric Garner’s killing?

T’AI FREEDOM FORD: I could say I was surprised, and then again, I wasn’t surprised. I mean, you saw what happened and the way the chokehold went down for so long that I thought, surely, at this one instance, surely, we have video, we have blatant evidence on our side. And then, of course, it turned out not to be the case. And then, of course, I wasn’t surprised, when I think about the grand scheme of things and the so-called American justice system.

FEMINISTA JONES: Feminista Jones, and we are marching for justice against police brutality in New York City, in Ferguson, in Oakland, all around the country and the world. We want to see Officer Pantaleo fired for killing Eric Garner. We want to see New York City take a different approach to prosecuting and to trying police officers who kill people. We want to see a total eradication of this police militarized state. We can’t live like this anymore.

AARON MATÉ: You brought your son today?

FEMINISTA JONES: I did. This is my son Garvey.

AARON MATÉ: Hi, Garvey. How old are you?

GARVEY X: I’m eight. I’m here with my mom, because we are trying to fight for our rights. We are trying to fight for our rights, for Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and a lot of people who are dead by bad police.

PROTESTERS: How do you spell "racist"? NYPD!

AMANDA: My name’s Amanda.

AARON MATÉ: Your sign has a silhouette of a black woman within a target.

AMANDA: Mm-hmm, yeah, so, this is actually my artwork. So, it’s inspired by the Public Enemy’s logo, the hip-hop group. But I really wanted to kind of embody the fact that black women are oftentimes ignored in these issues, and black women, queer people, trans people are not always at the forefront. Like, Mike Brown becomes a big thing, and that’s important, and it’s important to think about our black men, but it’s also important to talk about black women and black trans people and all of the other people who are also being killed. And their stories don’t even get heard. If we’re going to do this as a revolution, as a movement, we need to be inclusive of everyone and all different identities.

AARON MATÉ: We’re seeing a very diverse, multiracial, multigenerational crowd. But I’ve got to say, of all the contingents here, the largest one, by far, is young people.

PROTESTERS: Power to the people! Power to the people!

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER 1: I’m here because black lives matter.

AARON MATÉ: How old are you?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER 1: Twenty-one. In the past decades, with the civil rights movement, I think we, as a generation, are starting to realize how important this is not just for our generation, but the generations that are going to come after us. So we need to stand up now. If we don’t stand up, how are the generations after us going to have any example? We had an example with the 1950s, '60s and ’70s movement with civil rights. I think we're starting to really internalize that and make this into a big movement. So that’s why I think that we’re really coming out and making a stance.

AARON MATÉ: I’m here with a group of young people. They’re all 15, 16 years old. And you’ve come here together?




AARON MATÉ: Is anybody here protesting for the first time?


AARON MATÉ: Yeah? You guys are? So what brought you out today?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER 2: Well, I think, because we really wanted to support, especially New York, a lot of people came together, and we think that’s a really powerful message to send, so we kind of all got together.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER 5: We wanted to be a part of the message.


AARON MATÉ: As this march continues, one of the themes that we keep hearing from people that we speak to is a sense of not feeling safe, not feeling safe themselves and not feeling safe for their loved ones, people of color in heavily policed communities.

DARRELL GREENE: Darrell Greene.

AARON MATÉ: And what does your sign say?

DARRELL GREENE: "Me, my father, my son. Who’s next?" And what that image means is, at this point, I know I’m a productive citizen, and I don’t feel safe in my own community. I’ve never been in trouble with law enforcement. And from what I’m seeing on the news and what’s been going on, I really wonder: Am I next? I’m wondering if the people in my community are next. We’re all productive citizens, and we’re in fear for our life. We feel like it’s open season on all minorities, and we want to know if we’re really safe.

NILAN JOHNSON: My name’s Nilan Johnson. I’m here because Americans, period, are being preyed on, right now. African Americans are once again fighting for the right to be human, and I think that’s horrible.

AARON MATÉ: Do you, yourself, as a person of color, feel unsafe?

NILAN JOHNSON: That’s—I feel that daily, so I feel that’s a preconditioned nature now. I feel threatened and marked and cornered. And everybody here feels the same way. And we’re trying to keep our humanity.

AARON MATÉ: What does your shirt say?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER 6: "Don’t kill my son."

AARON MATÉ: How old’s your son?


AARON MATÉ: And can you talk about the concerns that you have for him?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER 6: I’m concerned that my son might die in these streets. He’s an innocent child. That’s my concern. That’s why we’re out here fighting for his life at eight years old.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER 7: They say, "Get back!" We say, "Fight back!" Get back!

PROTESTERS: Fight back!


PROTESTERS: Fight back!

TRACY FUAD: My name is Tracy Fuad. I’m here because I’m a teacher.

AARON MATÉ: So your sign says, "My black students have dreams. Don’t shoot."

TRACY FUAD: I don’t want my students to live in fear. I don’t want them to be afraid to be in their neighborhood. And I want them to have police that they can trust and not be afraid that the police are going to shoot them or going to be brutal to them or going to use violence against them.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER 8: We’re not going to stop!

AARON MATÉ: Right behind me there’s a group of demonstrators, and they’re singing a song that we’ve heard at the protests since the Eric Garner grand jury decision. It includes his last words. It says, "I can hear my brother saying, 'I can't breathe.’ Now I’m in the struggle singing, 'I can't leave.’"

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER 8: We’re not going to stop!

PROTESTERS: [singing] We’re not going to stop, 'til people are free. I can hear my brother saying, ’I can't breathe.’

AARON MATÉ: You know, the saying made famous by Dr. King is "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Well, this Millions March for justice is very long and it’s very slow, because there’s so many people packed into these streets. And now we’re hearing from organizers that at least 10,000, maybe up to 30,000, people have turned out.

KAYESHA: My name is Kayesha, and I’m here because what is happening in this country, what has been happening, from Emmett Till 50 years ago to Eric Garner and Akai Gurley now, has shown us that in 50 years it is still a death sentence to be black in America.

AARON MATÉ: And talk about the scene here today, these tens of thousands of people coming out to this Millions March.

KAYESHA: It’s amazing. It’s empowering. I’ve never seen anything like this. This is my first protest in this magnitude. And I just—I feel so proud. I’m elated. I feel strong. I feel empowered. And I’m just grateful to be a part of changing history, because that’s what we need to do—not make history, we need to change it.

PROTESTERS: Shut it down! Shut it down!

AARON MATÉ: After a very long march that spanned dozens of city blocks, we’ve arrived at the final destination: police headquarters downtown.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER 9: [echoed by the People’s Mic] Black lives matter! We will hear—we will hear from those who have lost someone they love because this country—because this country tells us that black lives don’t matter!

RON DAVIS: My name is Ron Davis. I’m the father of George Davis, the young man that was killed in Jacksonville, Florida, for loud music. We want to let you know that we are the families who are suffering, but y’all are suffering along with us. We have all these families. I have families listed on this placard. And every single day, every single night, there’s another young family member being killed in the streets. Every life matters. No more, no more, no more! Please follow. No more!


RON DAVIS: No more!


RON DAVIS: No more!


FRANK GRAHAM: [echoed by the People’s Mic] Mic check! Mic check! I am—I am Frank Graham, the father of Ramarley Graham, 18 years old, murdered in his home in front his grandmother and his six-years-old brother. Killer cops—killer cops—killer cops must—must—must—must go to jail!

AARON MATÉ: The Millions March is wrapping up, and as we stand here outside police headquarters, we’re going to speak to some of the organizers who put this day together. We’re here with Synead and Umaara, the two key organizers of this Millions March today. Was day one for you when the grand jury decision was announced? Is that when you started planning this?

SYNEAD NICHOLS: Day one was when I got the—when I heard the verdict of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson. That was what started it for me. And then, after the Eric Garner case, the numbers just kind of skyrocketed after that. Everybody, I think, was just really outraged and very upset, and they wanted to do something about it.

UMAARA ELLIOTT: That’s why we named it "Day of Anger," because that was our emotion. We were angry. Yes, we were sad, but we were angry. And anger can be justified.

SYNEAD NICHOLS: Firing Officer Daniel Pantaleo—he’s got to go. He choked someone to death, and there’s evidence. There’s footage.

UMAARA ELLIOTT: It’s a public lynching, practically.

SYNEAD NICHOLS: They’re pretty much slapping people in the face by not indicting him. And I think it’s ridiculous, and he’s got to go.

AARON MATÉ: You just said "a public lynching."

UMAARA ELLIOTT: Yeah, I felt that Eric Garner—watching Eric Garner’s murder was like a public lynching.

AARON MATÉ: Here with George and Sabaah, two more organizers of today’s Millions March protest. Talk about what happened today.

SABAAH JORDAN: We had people taking to the streets and demanding justice. And it was people of all colors. It was people of different ages. It was people of different backgrounds. It was people who are ready to evolve as human beings. And I think that when we can finally evolve past racism and we can finally evolve past, you know, something so petty as skin color, that’s going to mean evolution for everybody. That’s going to mean a better world for everybody to live in. I think people recognize that, and I think that that’s what the numbers reflect.

So, the things that you see happening in Ferguson and all over, we’re in communication. We’re talking. We’re working together. We’re building a movement. We believe that we can live in a better world. And I think it’s also, you know, a sign of the time. We’re in a world where it’s difficult to find a job, it’s difficult to pay off student loans—everything is very difficult. And so, it forces you to ask questions: Why is it like this? And then, when you see people being killed in the street and police officers not being held accountable, that’s just one more thing that tells you that something is really, really wrong and that if we don’t do anything about it, that this is the world that we’re going to inherit as adults. It’s hard to think about having children as a black woman in this world right now. And so, that’s where I’m coming from.

GEORGE: This is not the way you’re supposed to police and talk to communities. Policing should be based in communities on restorative justice and not the way it’s done now. And it’s not just about policing. We’re going to go for much more than that. This entire system is not broken; it’s working just fine. It needs to be dismantled and rebuilt, something that works for people, that works against inequality and for justice.

THENJIWE McHARRIS: My name is Thenjiwe McHarris. There’s a movement growing in this country, where we could see, today, it was more than 50 cities had engaged in the day of resistance. We’ve had times where 50, hundreds of cities, together, have resisted, have mobilized. What we’re seeing in the United States is what some may call an uprising, an uprising again of young black people, but also people across issue, across race, led by young black people saying enough is enough, you can’t keep killing black people, and we’re not going to stop, because black lives do matter. This is just the beginning. From Ferguson to New York to Oakland to Chicago, we’ve been shutting it down since after Mike Brown was killed on August 9, and we’re going to continue shutting it down ’til we have justice.

PROTESTERS: Hands up, don’t shoot! [singing] We’re not going to stop, 'til people are free. I can hear my brother saying, "I can't breathe." Now I’m in the struggle singing, "I can’t leave."

AMY GOODMAN: Voices from the Millions March rally as tens of thousands marched Saturday in New York. That piece from Aaron Maté and Samantha Riddell. Special thanks to Shanika Powell, Hany Massoud and Mike Burke.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. From the cops to the COP, we go to Lima, Peru. The U.N. climate summit is over. Stay with us.

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