On the ground at the Black Lives Matter protest in Union Square
Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were fatally shot by police. This is how New York City reacted
Stepping off the subway in Union Square, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. After hearing that protests were shutting down the city, we’d already headed to Midtown and Fifth Avenue to find business as usual. Initially, Union Square didn’t look much different.
We left the station to find rows of barriers blocking the streets. News vans and police were everywhere, but we couldn’t see any protestors. There was tension in the air and the two officers closest to us looked pretty uncomfortable though. In reply to our question about where the protest was, they reluctantly sent us round the corner.
That’s when it hit us: A mass of people, all silent, all of them holding signs.
Each sign reminded us that the men who were murdered were someone’s son, someone’s friend, and someone’s father.
Obviously we wanted to learn more: how the protesters felt, why they had decided to come out and what solutions they could think of. Almost instantly, a man approached us offering us his own answers to these questions.
Originally from the South Bronx, Devon Chambers was exhausted of the situation that just didn’t seem to be ending. He’d seen some of the worst of the violence and felt those who were impoverished and directly affected by the issue of police brutality didn’t have the resources to make the difference needed.
To Devon, it just didn’t make sense that the violence was happening: “I am a man. I don’t want to see anyone’s niece, cousin, Aunt, having to deal with this because the world is the way it is. We are compassionate. None of this shit is built into you when you’re born.”
The passion he felt was unreal to witness. He wanted the world to know that the situation wasn’t OK, and that now it isn’t OK to sit back and be a silent witness.
But under that passion was exhaustion. This is something he has every right to feel. The situation we’re seeing now almost exactly mirrors that of the Ferguson unrest of 2014.
Fast forward two years and we’re seeing very little change. It’s not even progress in the last two years that’s the issue, but also the lack of progress in the past 100. This was shown most clearly by a protester wielding a banner that read “a man was lynched by police yesterday”, just as men were lynched in the 1920s and 1930s. The racism and violence we’re witnessing today isn’t a far cry from what you see in the history books on the Civil Rights Movement.
Moving through the crowd of people and signs we bumped into another protester. Like Devon she was exhausted with the violence and seemingly never ending cycle of racism: “This is my first protest. After feeling helpless so many times, the same thing happening, I just feel like I need to be in the community with people who feel the same way.”
What she said brought attention to something we’d already noticed: The sense of unity between the people showing their support. It wasn’t just black people protesting, but a racially cohesive group all-fighting for the same cause.
Just as the protest made its way uptown we managed to talk to one final protester. White silence was one of the main issues touched upon by those involved in the demonstration, and a topic highlighted even further by the comments from the final interview: “I’m here to express solidarity as a white person who has experienced privilege my entire life and who has become aware. I can’t be silent any longer.”
The words he spoke could not have been more fitting. People are dying at the hands of those who promised to protect them. The protest showed me that we’re faced with an ever growing issue that just shouldn’t exist. In the words of Devon Chambers from the South Bronx: “Yeah we got differences, but we all want to sleep at night.”
It’s time to make a stand.