NEW YORK — More than 1,000 people representing activist groups large and small began marching from Harlem to the United Nations at 1:15 p.m. Monday, calling for justice and an end to police brutality.
“No justice, no peace.” “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “We will not remain silent while police remain violent,” they chanted. The protesters were a fairly diverse crowd of whites, African Americans and Latinos.
Phyllis Cunningham, 75, a nurse in Manhattan who is white, carried a sign reading, “Black Lives Matter.”
“My feeling is that we’re all racists,” Cunningham said. “This country has been racist from the beginning. Now that we have a mayor with a biracial son and a black president in the White House, these issues are finally rising to the surface. These issues about race that we — as a white society — have not worked on seriously in a long, long time.”
Along the march route, a black New York City Police Department officer said he had received his “fair share” of criticism from marchers on the street accusing him of “selling out” his race by being part of a “racist organization,” but he seemed unconcerned.
“It’s just another day on the job,” said the officer, who declined to give his name because he wasn’t authorized to speak to reporters. “I don’t care. As long as everyone stays safe, the protest is peaceful, and no one gets hurt, I’m good. This really doesn’t bother me,” he added. A second officer, who is white, offered a similar response.
The marchers said they were seeking to bring attention to police brutality as a global human rights issue.
Denisha Gingles, 26, a behavioral analyst who moved to New York City in 2013 from Ferguson, Mo., said she thinks the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two black men who were killed by police officers, were particularly visceral examples of an issue that minorities have struggled with for decades.
“Just the image of [Brown] out there lying in the street for so long stayed with a lot of people,” she said. “Seeing something like that with our own eyes was really disturbing.” A video of Garner being choked also hit a lot of African Americans especially hard.
“Protests are a necessary way to dramatize an issue that’s been going on for too long,” Gingles said. “People are just fed up.”
As Harlem resident Robert Graham, 80, pedaled past the church on a bicycle, his portable radio blaring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Rameen Aminzadeh, coordinator of the Justice League’s New York City branch, stood in front of a “Black Lives Matter” banner on Lenox Avenue.
“This march is to remind everyone — the powers that be and everyone — that we are here to stay and we are not going away,” Aminzadeh said.
Asked about claims by some New York city police that the department is being unfairly portrayed as a racist organization, Aminzadeh paused before speaking.
“When someone out on the street commits a crime, and someone is with him, that person is called an accomplice,” he said. “If you had someone that killed a person, got away with it, and you continue to wear that uniform and carry out those policies and stand with that department, then I think it’s fair to call you a racist.”