Thousands of protesters took to streets and highways all over the country Monday night in protest after learning that police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for shooting and killing an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, in August.
Outside Ferguson, Mo., where rioting, arson and looting erupted, protests were largely nonviolent.
In Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver and elsewhere, protesters blocked intersections with “die-ins,” throwing themselves on the pavement, some outlining their bodies with chalk, to symbolize Brown and other unarmed people who died in encounters with police. They lay on the ground for 4 1/2 minutes to represent, they said, the 4 1/2 hours that Brown’s body was left in the street after he was shot and killed. Choruses of “hands up, don’t shoot” and “black lives matter” rang out as protesters shut down bridges, freeways and major thoroughfares.
There was a poetry and a sad sort of symmetry to many of the protests that found their way to major highways. Brown died on a neighborhood street, not far from his home, after defying Wilson’s orders to stop walking in the middle of it, as Wilson testified before the grand jury.
Protesters who wanted to see Wilson tried were determined to remember him by taking to roads that don’t often see pedestrians — certainly not demonstrations blocking multiple lanes of traffic. In New York, protesters succeeded in shutting down the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Triborough bridges, while marchers in Chicago braved below-freezing temperatures en masse to close Lake Shore Drive.
— David Harpe (@daveharpe) November 25, 2014
As of 10 p.m., Chicago Police Chief Garry McCarthy said there had been no arrests or reports of property damage.
Meanwhile, in California, protesters took to the freeways.
“#Ferguson is no longer a city, it’s the center of the world,” Occupy Wall Street NYC tweeted. “Protesters never gave up & it made all the difference.”
In New York, thousands of peaceful protesters gathered in Union Square and marched up Seventh Avenue, lining the streets for blocks. Protesters managed to throw fake blood on New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
— Luke Rudkowski (@Lukewearechange) November 25, 2014
“This is going to be a long night,” tweeted Linda Suhler. Organizers have planned another march for Tuesday in Union Square at 7 p.m.
Uh Oh. #ferguson #nyc #newyorkcity #chaos A video posted by Gretchen Robinette (@gretchenrobinette) on Nov 11, 2014 at 6:55pm PST
While peaceful protests were the norm outside Ferguson, Oakland proved an exception. Vandals there spray-painted buildings with “F— the police,” and there were a number of easily contained garbage fires. Vivian Ho of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that looters smashed a window of an Oakland Starbucks, grabbed a bunch of coffee beans and threw and kicked them. They also took to the westbound 580 freeway encircling downtown Oakland, snarling traffic and making it impossible for motorists to pass.
Vandals destroyed glass windows and doors, including that of a bank. Another spray-painted “F— the police” on the doors to the newsroom of the Oakland Tribune.
On a night rent with pain and frustration — but no surprise for protesters all over the country — Seattle Mayor Ed Murray reached out with a message of love and compassion. Murray had poignant words for those in his city, where black men are plagued by economic and educational disparities while many of their white neighbors prosper from the city’s thriving tech boom.
“Our city is committed to the goals of racial, social justice in all areas,” Murray said at a news conference following the announcement Monday night, via Seattle’s Fox affiliate. “We cannot let this gulf of mistrust divide us, and we will not let this gulf of mistrust divide us…. My message to young people in Seattle tonight, in particular to African American young people, while we do not have the answers, we in this city are listening to you. We in this city hear you. We in this city love you.”
Murray’s sentiments were not met with unilateral agreement. “Seattle is just like Ferguson,” protest organizer Mohawk Kuzma told the Seattle Times. Some 300 people, including recording artist Macklemore, marched through downtown Seattle following the announcement Monday night, shouting “No justice, no peace” as they marched from Westlake Park to Seattle Central College.
Seattle police met protesters with flash-bang grenades and pepper spray as they tried to prevent them from taking their march to Interstate 5.
The freeway protests on the West Coast proved extremely disruptive; marchers in Los Angeles reportedly backed up Interstate 10 for miles. Aerial news footage showcased a string of immobile headlights snaking through the city.
Los Angeles marchers staged die-ins at La Brea and Wilshire boulevards. They tried to coax students at the University of Southern California to join them. USC administrators closed campus gates and placed the institution on lockdown as peaceful protesters passed the campus on Figueroa Street, reportedly letting students in, but not out, until the marchers passed. “I thought it was pretty frustrating because it was a peaceful protest and they were locking us down on campus as a form of protection,” senior Jennifer Binley told the Daily Trojan. “I thought it was kind of ridiculous because it’s going to be an important part of our history.”
On many campuses, student action was more somber. At Ohio State University in Columbus, more than 150 students gathered in the student union for a vigil.
At Ohio University in Athens, the student center normally closes at midnight, but administrators announced at 12:20 a.m. that it would be kept open all night after students said they would “occupy” the building. From North Carolina Central University to Eastern Michigan to the University of California at Santa Cruz, students turned out to protest the death of someone they could have considered a cohort — who, had he not been killed, would have been a freshman in college now.