The view from here
Marching through Brooklyn after curfew with Black Lives Matter protesters
|Jessica McKenzie||Jun 8|| 2|
On Friday we walked for hours.
We joined a protest as it streamed down Washington Avenue in Brooklyn and then paused at the intersection with Atlantic, jamming traffic, so organizers could address the crowd ahead of the 8pm curfew. Many of the young leaders said they would be going home, because tonight was not the night that they wanted to get arrested, and because the police had been brutal in their arrests earlier that week. The crowd paused again at a sliver of a park a few blocks away for more speeches, which were not amplified enough to hear clearly. One of the organizers led the group in singing happy birthday to Breonna Taylor, who should have turned 27 that day. She encouraged those who had been at Cadman Plaza when police rushed peaceful protesters, pushed them to the ground, and beat them with batons, to come forward to speak with a lawyer. The lawyer was holding a bunch of yellow flowers so it would be easy for people to seek him out. A woman handed out protective glasses, in case the police used pepper spray later that night. Officers hovered at the fringes of the gathering like flies, as people peeled away to walk home. I saw two girls flip the bird at a couple cops as they passed.
After 8pm we began walking again through the streets towards the Barclays Center and then out to the Manhattan Bridge, which was completely blocked off by police, then to the Brooklyn Bridge, also walled off by police in riot gear, and through downtown Brooklyn. There were hundreds of cops lining the streets that night, everywhere we walked, many of them clutching batons. Behind us trailed a small army of police vehicles, lights flashing, a helicopter buzzing above. A white woman danced in front of a slow-moving line of vehicles, twerking spastically, which made me cringe. Fireworks shot from an apartment building made me jump. The atmosphere was oppressive. Organizers jogged around and through us, telling us to stick together, to not let big gaps open up between protesters. People chanted: “Black lives matter”; “No justice, no peace”; “Say her name, Breonna Taylor”; “What do we want? Justice? When do we want it? Now”; “If we don’t get it? Shut it down.” Sometimes the crowd—those not carrying signs—held their hands up and chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot” or “Peaceful protest.” The air was damp and smelled of burning sage. People were handing out snacks, and later I heard someone call out, like a street hawker: “I’ve got two fruit roll-ups—and all I’m asking for is one Rice Krispies Treat.”
Hours later, there was a stand-off at Grand Army Plaza, near Prospect Park, as cops barred our progress. In the middle of the crowd, it was impossible to know what was going on. We linked arms. Eventually organizers had us kneel down. And then the police let us pass, forcing us onto the sidewalk, and my group peeled off to walk home. This is also when two city politicians that had been walking with the group—unbeknownst to me—went home, it seems. Not long after, many of the protesters who continued marching were arrested, not so peacefully.
The threat of police violence was palpable throughout the night, even though I happened to leave before it materialized.
Marching down Atlantic Avenue
This may already be too many words from a white woman about demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism. It’s only because my readership is so intimate and includes family and friends who don’t live in the city that I think it may be worthwhile to share my experience, as succinctly as I can.
I encourage you to also read these dispatches from people on the ground in four cities—Houston, Newark, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia—especially if the coverage of the protests you’re accustomed to has begun to seem repetitive, or too dispassionate and impersonal, or too out of touch. These first-person stories can, in their narrowness, cover much more than an eagle-eye, view-from-nowhere national story.