When Protests Aren't Just Protests Anymore: Welcome To The Neo Civil Rights Movement

This revolution is shutting it down, coast to coast.
Publish date:
December 16, 2014
protests, Eric Garner, #blacklivesmatter

If the Tea Party was stirred by feeling some kind of way about a black man moving into the White House, then the global movement against anti-black police violence might just be the Neo Civil Rights Movement.

This Saturday was marked by loosely affiliated rallies under the banner “National Day of Resistance” decrying the lack of justice around the deaths of New York police chokehold victim Eric Garner, Ferguson, Missouri’s Mike Brown, and 12-year-old Cleveland boy Tamir Rice.

Grand juries in the Garner and Brown cases declined to proceed to trial against police who killed the men. Tamir’s death by a cop in November has been ruled a homicide, and the Rice family has filed a wrongful death suit.

For weeks, Americans, largely young, have been “dying” all over the place in a novel and compellingly accurate protest tactic called the “die in” while chanting “I can’t breathe,” Garner’s last words. They have also been holding their arms high in a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” pose as witnesses describe Brown did in Ferguson. The Saturday rallies, held in places like New York, Lexington, Ky., Boston, San Francisco and Bloomington, Ind., are just but one manifestation of global indignation over police abuse. From Hong Kong and London to Tokyo, Paris and Melbourne, these voices have been building into a crescendo and show no sign of stopping if uber-organized movement leaders have any say over whether #blacklivesmatter. And animated tweet maps illustrate the point.

Even actor Samuel Jackson got in on the action, posting a video Saturday calling out celebs who enthusiastically embraced the wildly popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge last fall: “All you celebrities out there who poured ice water on your head, here’s a chance to do something else: I challenge all of you to sing the ‘We Ain’t Gonna Stop Till People Are Free’ song,” which he then sang.

One of the most poignant demonstrations has been from Garner’s daughter Erica, who held a die-in on Staten Island Thursday in the same spot where her father gasped and pleaded for help from police standing around his body, making no effort to help him. That same night, demonstrators “died” at Grand Central Station and on Fifth Avenue at Saks.

Evoking the memory of Trayvon Martin, the Sanford, Fla., teen shot down in 2012 by a wannabe cop, Erica Garner told Ruptly TV: “It’s a lot of Eric Garners out there. A lot of innocent people being beat down by police.”

Highlights from recent protests:

Washington, D.C.

Organizers estimated 25,000 protesters marched at the Capitol, including Esaw Garner, Eric’s wife, and his mother, Gwen Carr. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier, who walked through the crowd, remarked on how peacefully everything was conducted. Tamir’s mother, Samaria, and the families of Amadou Diallo and Akai Gurley came.

"It's just so overwhelming to see all who have come to stand with us today. I mean, look at the masses. Black, white, all races, all religions. ... We need to stand like this at all times," according to Carr.

As reported at TheRoot.com, Erika Totten was forced to “bum rush” the mike after Sharpton’s team denied young protesters a seat on the main stage labeled VIP, a ridiculous piece of irony and contradiction given what’s at stake.

Notably, on Thursday, Congressional staffers held a walkout at the Capitol including a prayer saying, "Forgive, O God, our culpability in contributing to our national pathology. As you keep us aware of our own capacity to be instruments of injustice, immunize us from that self-righteousness that blames everyone but ourselves."


About 1,000 demonstrators came out Saturday for a 4 1/2 hour rally around the State House steps and into Boston Common. Police arrested 23 people on disorderly conduct charges, according to the Boston Globe. On Friday in Cambridge, hundreds rallied in Harvard Square, including holding a die-in and holding their arms up in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” stance.

New York

Manhattan bulged Saturday with protesters numbering around 25,000, according to police, with some blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge as they crossed Saturday night.

New York Police mounted a different kind of protest on Friday, asking Mayor Bill de Blasio to avoid coming to funerals of police who’ve lost their lives in the line of duty because attendance would be “an insult to that officer’s memory and sacrifice,” confirmed the Patrolman's Benevolent Association.

And social media engaged in a bit of hateration on Friday, posting pics of Kate Meckler, a top real estate broker who apparently comes from money and who pled guilty to stealing $2,000 worth of clothes from Saks — and lived to tell about it.

The Meckler posts complete a theme that’s cropped up during these events, juxtaposing crimes whites get away with, or even crimes against animals, that are punished more harshly.

Berkeley and Oakland

True to its roots in fighting for social justice, students at the University of California, Berkeley had already been protesting for a week, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe.” Disturbingly, however, life-size photo effigies of black lynching victims strategically hung around campus cropped up Saturday morning, according to media reports. Hundreds took to San Francisco’s downtown streets.


Protesters staged die-ins that city’s honky-tonk district on Friday.


On Dec. 9, University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann briefly joined a die-in and also chanted “Black lives matter, all lives matter,” with about 50 of her students and took a lot of heat for it from university police.

Durham, N.C.

About 75 people from four congregations blocked two intersections in a troubled part of town, acting in solidarity with black churches, and a few white ones, across the country who sympathize with the protesters. And a handful of people also tried to block the Durham Freeway over the weekend, according to media reports. For example, in Dallas, the Rev. T.D. Jakes told congregants black men shouldn’t be “tried on the sidewalk.”


This cacophony of voices increasingly demands justice not for just black men and boys, but women, too. For months, black feminists have called for the same attention that has been given to lost male lives to be paid to female victims of bad policing. The number of missing black women in America has been pegged at 64,000, according to the FBI and the Black and Missing Foundation. Yet these women haven’t become the household names the travesty of their deaths suggest: Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Yvette Smith and Tanisha Anderson.

“Many of the condemnations of police brutality have excluded the experiences of black women who have been brutalized in custody,” according to Dr. Kali Gross, at the University of Texas at Austin in HuffingtonPost.com. “The ongoing media blackout surrounding the case of 13 black women allegedly assaulted by a police officer in Oklahoma City may be the hardest evidence of the devaluation of African-American women's lives.”

Moreover, this revolution that will be apparently tweeted and selfied — so no one will miss it or be left untouched by it — continues to produce so much evidence of the vastly different worlds which people of color occupy in America.

The year began with income inequality revelations of French economist Thomas Piketty. Bookended on the edge of 2014, Pew offers Research Center’s stunning findings on the income chasm between whites, and blacks and browns.

Pew found the median wealth of white households to be $141,000 in 2013, a slight bump from 2010 when it was $138,000. The median wealth of Hispanic households was $13,700, and for blacks, it was $11,000.

As further evidence, The New York Times last week highlighted patterns in the school-to-prison pipeline, showing black girls, especially darker ones, are more likely to be punished harshly in school.

And hopefully, anyone who’s been paying attention to this new movement knows this statistic: Young black males have a 21 times greater risk of being shot by police than their white counterparts, according to an analysis of federal data by ProPublica.


Negroes / Sweet and docile / Meek humble and kind: Beware the day / They change their mind” From “Roland Hayes Beaten” by Langston Hughes

Since the dawn of protest music and hip-hop, it’s been a long time since black folks could be perceived as sweet or docile, like in Hughes' famous poem, so just think how vehemently black folks' minds have changed when it comes to waiting another second on an appropriate national response to police violence.

It looks like Congress might finally be listening.

A bill recently passed both chambers requiring local police departments that receive federal money to report every shooting and death by police on a quarterly basis. With more bills in the pipeline, this will help get a better handle on the facts so federal authorities may respond appropriately to negative patterns and trends that emerge.

What happens next? Organizers are already looking to Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 19, 2015 for the next large-scale action.

What will it look like? Representing various progressive strains in the American political landscape, everyone from black Millennials and feminists to Occupiers and people who just get it, protests, now and in the future have run the gamut from a call to boycott Black Friday to boycotting holiday shopping altogether to continued moments of silence and blackouts on social media.

It is also inspiring to see people at the highest level making their feelings known, including the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose and the University of Notre Dame Women’s Basketball team wearing black “I Can’t Breathe” shirts, to NBA players donning the shirts as workout wear.

If protest comes from pain -- this movement just sparked an explosion.