By DANIEL CASSADY & CATCHCHA RICHARDS
Activists and supporters of #RiseUpOctober – an organization fighting to stop police brutality – kicked of the first day of three days of protests on Thursday at Father Duffy Square.
The gathering, called “No More Stolen Lives, Say Their Names”, started out with about 50 supporters who witnessed the recital of the names of victims who died as a result of what organizers called “police terror”.
Names like Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice – all of whom were involved in highly publicized fatal confrontations with police — were read aloud by family members and supporters. But the names were not limited to those that made front pages.
About 40 family members of people who have been killed by police took their turns on the stage. Each speaker carried a sign with a picture of the slain relative, the person’s name, and how and where the person died. Each speaker called out the name and asked the crowd call it back as an act of remembrance, beforer giving a short eulogy.
“My grandbaby would have been 13 this year,” said Mertilla Jones of her granddaughter Aiyana Jones; who, in July of 2002 was shot in the head at age seven by a Detroit police officer who busted into the family home “looking for a murder suspect” according to Jones. Aiyana was a “girly girl, but also a tomboy, who loved Hannah Montana and Justin Bieber,” Jones said with a smile.
Rev. Stephen Phelps, a group advisor, also took the stage. “Police brutality stands on the ‘we are good and they are bad’ notion,” he said, and called for the “white nation to become a nation of remorse,” if change is to be achieved.
“To come together and stand before the divine, accused in our wrongdoing, “ he added later, “is an action of the religious mind. Here, our wrong has been to support a police structure, a criminalizing structure that has been so damaging, so crushingly cruel to black culture.”
Among the family members of those commemorated were Tawanda Jones, sister of Tyrone West, a 44-year-old black man alledgedly beaten to death by Baltimore police in July 2013. Jones said her brother reminded her “There’s a George Zimmerman on every corner” in their last conversation. Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch coordinator acquitted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin – an unarmed Black teen he shot and killed on February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida.
Also in attendance were Columbia Film School professor and former Black Panther Party member Jamal Joseph, playwright Eve Ensler, and film maker Quentin Tarantino.
Taranino remembered Freddie Gray, “a 25 year old black man, kicked, beaten, tazed, and then thrown in the back of a police van while handcuffed.” Gray died of a severed spinal cord injury during the arrest. Tarantino also spoke of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old black man of Ferguson, Missouri shot six times by a police officer.
The day ended with a rally at the Korean War Veterans Plaza in downtown Brooklyn, in honor of the 20th year anniversary of National Day of Protest, “to stop police brutality, repression and criminalization of a generation,” followed by a march to the Barclay’s center on Atlantic Ave.
The rally and march attracted heavy police presence. At least 75 uniformed officers, each with about ten zip tie handcuffs attached to the belts, surrounded the plaza. There were also two prison transport buses, parked on Tillary St., and two mobile command centers, around the corner, on Cadman Plaza West.
Leading the march were Dr. Burchell M. Marcus, Community Director for Brooklyn, who acts as a liaison between the community and the city’s elected officials, and the family members of those killed by police. Marcus said that the event had been “planned for a year, and was a success thanks to cooperation from the NYPD.”
Police kept what was about 300 protesters confined to the sidewalk on their way down to the Atlantic arena, a strategy Marcus said worked “because the crowd wasn’t as big as expected, had it been a bigger crowd the street would have been used.”
Rise Up October was scheduled to continue Friday on Rikeers Island and end on Saturday with a rally at Washington Square Park.