Words from the Day of Verdict Protest, Justice for Trayvon Martin
People started marching in a small group around Union Square Park almost immediately. I was impressed by the absence of uncertainty. There was never a moment where people mumbled to each other, “What? Are they marching?” or the old familiar, “Where do they think they’re going?” that I heard so often in Liberty Square during Occupy Wall Street. No one complained about the drums that met us next to the statue of Gandhi after we had circled the park. People were just nodding, looking around, some smiled. People greeted each other. I was encouraged by how warm everyone was in the face of such loss.
After circling the park, the marchers hesitated only for what seemed like the change in the light before streaming across 14th street and down Broadway. Like a dam breaking, traffic was clogged in seconds. We “rapped” around the Gramercy Park area, confusing the police formations that tried to define borders around our path, shouting, “Justice for Trayvon Martin,” and “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, We Say No To The New Jim Crow.” We snaked our way up to 23rd Street, across Madison Square Park, up to Herald Square and Penn Station. The cops didn’t touch us, even as we entered Times Square, I saw no arrests. We swelled to fill all space. All traffic stopped. We compressed and everyone sat down. Some climbed atop lampposts, trying to facilitate, trying to find a democratic answer to the question, “What do we do next?” Looking around we realized, suddenly we had power. We had taken Times Square. We knew the cops were coming. Some reported that they were gathering in formations just blocks away. But to most of us it didn’t matter. Let them come. There were more people with us than the entire NYPD police force on duty that night. People passed around the number for the National Lawyers Guild and some markers. We linked arms. Let them come. Justice for Trayvon Martin.
Then, activist Heidi Lopez got up on a lamp post and said, “We’ve shut down 42nd… We should be proud. But this place is only where the money is, that pays for the schools, that pays for the pigs, that’re killin’ our people. So we should be here, shuttin’ it down. But we should be uptown! ‘Cuz that’s where we get killed!” We took a vote, Harlem won, so we stood up. A thousand people stood up and started walking to Harlem.
We made it to the corner of 59th and 5th before the cops started trying to pick us off. They’d been following us on the sidelines, and now, every once in a while a sergeant would try to funnel us onto the sidewalk like he was directing traffic… like we would listen. Most people laughed when the crowd surged around these efforts, but every once in a while someone walked too close or strayed too far from the group and got grabbed… grabbed and thrown. Sometimes we were thrown to the ground, sometimes against a car or a wall. I have a picture in my mind of a young man getting dragged away from us by his backpack. Our spotlights turned towards him, filming, the entire group shouting “Shame, shame, shame!” as three cops pressed his face to the ground and cuffed him. Friends grabbed and held onto friends. Others refused to let strangers be pulled from the crowd. It got heated. Someone screamed at the cops to leave us alone. That this was a peaceful protest. Then someone jumped in front, in between the crowd and the swarm of officers and repeated the line, “THIS IS A PEACEFUL PROTEST!” A couple people picked up the chant, others encouraging brothers to back off, “This isn’t the time to get arrested,” they pulled each other back, “Not now.” The crowd took a breath, turned and continued the march to Harlem. Justice for Trayvon Martin.
People started cheering once we passed Mount Sinai Hospital. But we were also running. The road behind us was lit up, burning with red and blue. “Watch out behind you!” My friend called back to those who were falling behind. “Close the gap!” another yelled. I admit I had fantasized about our now scraggly group arriving and meeting Harlem in the streets like they were all ready and waiting, armed and cheering for us. It didn’t quite happen that way. Instead, we took a hard left into one of the projects and lost the wall of flashing red and blue for a minute. I think we surprised a few people, but we came out larger than when we went in.
We hit Malcolm X Blvd around 11:00PM, large enough to fill the avenue again. Some of us were dragging by now, but everyone took strength from the new faces. “Glad you could make it,” some said. “You don’t understand, we have to be here,” came the reply. We marched and the crowd changed. Young mothers and cousins were marching now. Young brothers and sisters came out from between cars, some cheered from their stoops, more leaned out their windows waving. It was a parade of young people at midnight, loud and hot. Some people still had that shocked look in their eyes, like they still couldn’t believe the acquittal. Others had known with cold certainty that he would get off. “Now he’s just another white man,” someone sneered. “These assholes always get away,” another said, ironically quoting Zimmerman. Others were just glad to see the people in the neighborhood on the street.
The march had doubled in size and the cops stopped picking us off. We hit 125th street like we were crossing a finish line, but we weren’t finished, we just turned left. Suddenly we were walking past a seamless wall of cops. They had positioned themselves to block Clinton’s office with their bodies, shoulder to shoulder. No one touched us, and we couldn’t pause, so we kept on… although, some of us were a little insulted by the blatant show of force. It made their real priorities a little too obvious.
We didn’t stop til we got to the Apollo. Why we stopped there, no one on the outskirts could say. To pay homage? To distribute water? We began snaking again. Passing through neighborhoods in the dark, we were calling to people to remember Trayvon and remember that these are “Our Streets!” It was about 1:45AM when the group got to 145th street and Malcolm X Blvd. We pulled a little switch back, got the small group of cops still following us all backed up and confused, and then the march headed across the 145th street bridge into the Bronx. That’s where I got off.
But my last sighting of the march wasn’t their backs crossing the bridge. Nope. My last sighting of the march was of a crowd 400 strong at 3:00AM still singing and calling out Justice for Trayvon, walking south towards Marcus Garvey Park. I was able to return after getting my car. If it weren’t for the circling police helicopter and it’s razor sharp spotlight, I don’t think I would have found them again. But thanks to what now seemed like their police entourage, I was able to find them and use my car to block some of the cross street traffic for the protesters.
My last sighting of the march was a little before 4:00AM, huge arms reached inside my car to give me a hug. From outside, people shouted, “Honk your horn, girl! Honk for Trayvon.” Hopefully, the honking and singing could be heard loud and clear throughout the city that night.
We will not be silent. Justice for Trayvon Martin.