Less than 24 hours after citizen protests in Ferguson, Missouri erupted into brutal mayhem, thousands of people gathered in New York City in honor of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Part of a slew of scheduled protests around the country, Union Square began to fill up around 7pm with people adopting the well-circulated Ferguson motto: “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
The initial rhetoric, led by a group known as the Revolution Club made reference to other victims of police brutality, including Eric Garner, a father who died after being put in a chokehold by the NYPD last month.
“We don’t need no pigs out here in our streets, blow the whistle when you see the police,” one of the organizers bellowed. The scene was not unlike some of the protests surrounding the court ruling in the Travyon Martin case last summer. And some of the attendees suggested that this sight was all too familiar.
But the primary focus was solidarity, as simultaneous protests in Ferguson turned peaceful with the guidance of the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Yet as the crowd moved from Union Square towards Times Square, chanting “No justice, no peace” and bringing traffic to a standstill, the situation grew more tense. Upon arriving in the dizzying center of the city - a person in an Elmo costume jumped up exuberantly in support of the group as they passed - the police formed a line to stop the protestors from marching. After some brief altercations between the authorities and protestors in the front of the pack everyone slowly and calmly sat down in front of stopped traffic.
As the group diverged into smaller packs, police closed off 42nd street between 8th and 9th Avenue, where there were reports of arrests. One police officer refused to let me through despite identifying myself and showing him press credentials. He claimed that I wasn’t “gentleman” enough and chuckled as I presented identification, before physically forcing me to step away.
The proceedings drew to a close by around 10:30 P.M. after a handful of individuals had been placed into an NYPD van with plastic handcuffs restraining them. The rest of the police looked on, sitting idle on horses in front of Starbucks.
Perhaps the most surprising element was the sheer number of people gawking at the crowd with a sense of confusion, not knowing why this gathering was occurring. A few people asked me what was going on and who was Michael Brown, which grants credence to the idea that despite conventional media wisdom, this story still exists primarily on Twitter.
And it’s far from over. The police officer who shot Michael Brown is allegedly set to be named Friday, after a new video (Warning: Graphic) released today showcases the sheer horror surrounding the shooting itself. The police response to protests, prior to Thursday, have incited countless incisive criticisms of police militarization in the United States and even prompted at least one member of Congress to propose a bill limiting military equipment to local law enforcement.
New York’s night of solidarity with Ferguson drew to a quick close, leaving a large assemblage of police officers ready and able to take selfies with unknowing tourists