On Monday morning, in the wake of two boisterous political conventions, a coalition of dozens of Black Lives Matter-affiliated organizations released a platform of demands and grievances.
The detailed list covered a spectrum of issues, ranging from an end to punitive segregation in prisons, to universal healthcare and the increased use of participatory budgeting at all levels of government.
These kinds of focused demands have resulted in clout at the national level, including meetings for some representatives with President Barack Obama and other national leaders.
The groups began compiling the platform in a meeting in Cleveland last summer, and released it now, just before the two-year anniversary of the police shooting of Michael Brown and resulting protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
But also on Monday, an unaffiliated group chose a more radical step in the direction of solving some of those grievances — an occupation of City Hall Park.
Early Monday morning, organizers and activists under the Millions March NYC umbrella organization trickled into the small park opposite City Hall, where they intended to remain, organizers said, until Mayor Bill de Blasio met three demands: firing police Commissioner William Bratton and ending his trademark broken-windows policing; reparations for victims and survivors of police misconduct; and defunding the NYPD.
To be clear, these organizers are calling for the abolition of the NYPD, not reform.
“There’s no reforming an institution that’s doing what it’s designed to do,” said Vienna Rye, 24, an organizer with Millions March. Rye sees the roots of modern law enforcement in slave patrols before the Civil War and is eager to see policing as we know it come to an end. Millions March would like to see funds disinvested from police and reinvested locally. As they gathered a police contingent watched.
The radical idea of disbanding the NYPD was echoed by some among the approximately 50 protesters in the park on Monday afternoon. In a meld of the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements, the demonstrators adopted occupation tactics to focus attention on specific issues. Veterans of both movements joined the protest, and supplies began building up Occupy Wall Street-style Monday afternoon.
The focus on specific issues was similar to the Movement for Black Lives platform released Monday morning. But the Movement looked at a broad swathe of issues and went deeper into them — including alternatives for police — and incorporating model legislation for their demands when available.
At City Hall Park, there were gradations of radical solutions suggested and applauded. Messages in chalk ranged from “No cop zone,” and “Black Autistic Lives Matter,” to a provactive one claiming “Blue Lives Don’t Matter #thankyoudallas.” A splash of liquid smudged the red chalk in “don’t.”
Protesters said this high tension and deep anger was justified given the length of time they’d waited for reform and the growing number of those killed by police, even just here in NYC.
Even perceived gains, as when a police officer was indicted in the death of Akai Gurley in Brooklyn, seem to disappear. A Millions March “Orientation Guide” circulated at the protest noted that the police officer ultimately received lenient punishment.
For a moment Monday afternoon, it seemed another name would be added to the grim list, when news broke on Twitter of a police involved shooting in Queens and a woman with a head injury. A police spokesman later said the woman was injured in an unrelated incident; the shooting victim, a suspected burglar, was expected to survive.
If the open-ended occupation is a ratcheting up of activity, protesters said that was due to the lack of action from politicians like de Blasio, who had originally been viewed with hopefulness. Where the Movement for Black Lives looks to effect legislation, Millions March is not at this point interested in cooperation from politicians apart from agreeing to their demands.
“We don’t care about the Democratic agenda,” said Ann Jeffryes, 58, adding that this action was a long time coming. She said broken-windows and stop-and-frisk policing hadn’t ended, despite protest after protest.
De Blasio did not change any policies Monday. The protesters left the park late Monday night, moving to a nearby space that was open 24 hours a day.
“Our plan is to hold the space,” Rye, one of the organizers, said.
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