The Rebellion Continues
More Eyewitness Reports from the Nationwide Revolt
Marx21 (US) members and friends continue to fight alongside the movement in the streets. Here are some more inspiring reports from around the country.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Clare Lemlich • Tuesday, June 2
A popular site of protest since the outbreak of the pandemic has been LA mayor Eric Garcetti’s house in a fancy leafy neighborhood in LA’s Mid-City. The demand of these protests is usually around eviction moratoriums and housing justice, but today’s action was part of the anti-racist rebellion following the police murder of Geroge Floyd.
Garcetti is a target for the local 'Black Lives Matter' movement because the City of LA spends over half its budget on the police department. Democratic mayors like Garcetti are important to protest in cities like Los Angeles and states like California. These places have well-funded police departments, which are able to kill Black and Brown people with impunity under the stewardship of state, city, and local Democratic lawmakers. There is an important political reckoning taking place, in which people increasingly argue that racism is not the preserve of the deep south or small towns, but that racism is deeply embedded in every part of US society, including liberal metropolitan areas.
The willingness of the movement to pressure Garcetti like this is especially important right now. In 2020 - an election year - we can all expect huge pressure to vote for Joe Biden and to support the Democrats in particular. But targeting Democrats in the state level points to something important. There is no electoral route to defeat police racism, because these Democrats are responsible for it too.
Around 1,000 people gathered around Garcetti’s house, chanting slogans from the movement like “Black Lives Matter” and “no justice, no peace.” When the police started to surround the streets nearby, white protestors took the intersection and sat down on the road, forming a barrier between the police and the Black and other POC protest leaders behind us. This was an inspiring act of solidarity, seeing people who are less vulnerable to racist police violence standing up (or sitting down, rather) to protect their comrades.
At one point, a young white man started chanting “take the knee” to the police lines in front of us, but the chant was extremely unpopular and several people shouted it down. This was an important moment in the protest, showing that people are highly critical of police’s PR stunts of pretending that they stand with Black people and protesters.
Although it’s not straightforward to practice social distancing in demonstrations like this, nearly every protester I saw was wearing a mask. This is in stark contrast to the police, none of whom were wearing masks and only a handful were wearing gloves. If there is an uptick in coronavirus infections among protesters in a few weeks, we know who to blame.
At this protest and many others around the country since, the demand to defund the police is becoming hugely popular. This demand was once the preserve of the revolutionary left, but now it is the slogan of a mass movement. There are important debates still to be had about what exactly defunding the police looks like: How to approach the question of abolishing the police when they are just one component of the larger violent and repressive apparatus of the capitalist state?
Another question the movement will need to deal with is around secret and covertly organized protests. The location of this particular action was not publicly announced until an hour before it started. There were many message threads and exchanges to organize joining the protests before it was publicly announced, but the secretive way it was organized - surely made it harder for wider layers of people to join this action.
Organizers are right to be concerned about the police, but it was obvious that the police already knew about this action, and were on standby around the corner before we arrived. No amount of secret messaging can prevent a police presence. It is only in huge numbers that we can stand down the cops at these kinds of actions, something that is not easy to generate without accessible information about the protests. As the movement continues and the initial shock and outrage subsidies over the coming weeks, we will need publicly called, openly organized actions in order to grow and sustain the rebellion.
MANHATTAN, NEW YORK
Brett Wallace • Wednesday, June 3
This is my first-hand report of the 'Black Lives Matter' protest that took place on Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020 in Manhattan.
4:00 pm. The protest began in Washington Square Park.
4:04 pm. The protest march started in Washington Square Park, chanting, “No justice, no peace!” The march headed uptown on 5th Avenue, taking over a major street. In contrast to nearby SoHo, there were less boarded-up businesses on this route.
The crowd was young, nearly fully masked, caring, and concerned for each other and the city streets it passed through. Yet, you could feel the collective anger and frustration against police brutality and a mutual call for the violence to end.
There was a collective sense that we are not returning to business as usual because whatever normal was, it’s not working for many. Moreover it’s adversely impacting black people and people of color. This impact is evident in both pandemics this year – COVID-19 and the killing of black people and people of color by police. Both are clear examples of systemic racism in how the system asymmetrically exposes black people and people of color to exposure, risk, and violence.
Despite the anger and frustration that we still have to fight for #BLM against police brutality and racism in 2020, it was inspiring to see thousands of demonstrators stand up against racism and call to defund the NYPD.
On curbs and sidestreets, comrades handed out water, snacks, and masks. Medics marched amongst the crowd.
Motorists and transit workers, who over the last week, have refused to transport arrested protesters on their buses, honked their horns in solidarity. Besides the transit workers and a few healthcare workers who have joined, I did not see much presence from established unions in this particular march.
While people cheered the march on from windows and balconies, a walk through lower and midtown Manhattan gives a sense of the capitalized, yet vacant city - amidst the high rises, skyscrapers, and predominantly white neighborhoods.
In contrast, marches or bike protests through Brooklyn down Flatbush or Jamaica Ave, or in other boroughs, elicit a different feeling of solidarity. The honking horns, smiles, raised fists in the air of residents from predominantly non-white neighborhoods is energizing. The pride of these neighborhoods stands in sharp relief to the material conditions of over-policing, such as NYPD floodlights left out in the streets.
4:17 pm. A man with a trumpet walking beside me started to play Amazing Grace.
4:40 pm. The crowd chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
4:51 pm. The crowd took a knee at 7th Avenue, chanting, “We want change.” As the crowd marched uptown, the front of the group locked arms as “one body” indivisible.
The crowd-made signs of cardboard reflected BLM, the names of those lost to police brutality, and other statements to dismantle and destroy racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia in the fight for black lives against police brutality. I saw many signs for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. And, a sign for Tony McDade, a trans man killed by police, in May.
5:07 pm. The crowd was led into a two minute moment of silence at 7th Avenue and 32nd St. (Penn Station). I noticed a more significant police presence now following the group on foot.
5:15 pm. The group paused at 8th avenue and 34th St.
5:37 pm. The police presence increased with officers walking beside the crowd. Organizers instructed the crowd not to engage with the police.
6:23 pm. The crowd turned onto Central Park West and stopped at Trump Tower. Police had barricaded the building. A group stood in the front of the police barricade and led a chant, “we want a leader, not a fucking tweeter.”
6:58 pm. As the crowd headed down through Central Park to the East End, the tensions increased as police began to make their presence known before the curfew hit.
7:42 pm. Protestors gathered near Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence along East End Ave between 85-88th St. There was a bit of confusion as to what to do next. One large group headed uptown. I headed back downtown with the other group.
8:25 pm. I overheard a man encouraging the police who followed the crowd to try not to shoot anyone tonight.
8:33 pm. Tension increased with a large group of police at the corner. Organizers steered the crowd away from the police and encouraged the crowd not to engage the police. Protestors continued to march peacefully and chanted, “Fuck your curfew,” as the martial law sets in.
The police state curfew is meant to protect storefronts, a signifier of the capitalist engine. This engine does not create enough space for Black citizens and leaves them unprotected against police brutality.
8:52 pm. As the crowd crossed 54th St. heading downtown, the police lights ahead became more evident. I did not realize it would be the start of the “kettling.” The police tactics also caught the front of the crowd off guard.
8:56 pm. At East 50th St., the front of the crowd turned around and started running back. People yelled, “stop running, stay calm, lock the bikes.” I heard someone yell, “white people up front” and “hold your ground.” The crowd began to chant, “peaceful protest.” The police formed a barricade with their vehicles and armored bodies blocking the crowd from exiting.
8:59 pm. The crackdown began. Officers held batons. Protestors took a knee. Organizers asked the crowd to quiet and stay put to diffuse the tension. At the front of the line, an organizer walked along the police line with open arms, calmly repeating, “Officers, please give us your warning, and we will go home.” Amidst the crowd, I could not discern the police intercom’s announcements beyond “citywide curfew.”
9:02 pm. We were blocked and the police had no intention of letting people go. The crowd stood up. It started to pour. I heard, “thank you for your cooperation on the police intercom.” The protestors in front of me headed forward across 50th St., turned right towards cops approaching, screaming, “Get the fuck out of here.” Those around me started running down 50th St. passing a line of police vehicles.
A video surfaced later of a man on a bike at that intersection being attacked by police as he tried to peddle away.
9:03 pm. As the crowd fled, people shouted, “Get home safe.” I banged a right onto 2nd avenue and took shelter on 49th St. under an entryway with other demonstrators.
9:30 pm. The police blocked most central streets, so I took side streets to the subway, then headed back to Washington Square Park to retrieve my bike. At the park, an SUV with four undercover police slowly rolled by, glanced at me, and kept moving. I presume they would have stopped had I not been a white man.
When the city seeks to shut down and enforces a police state to do so, it is black, indigenous, and people of color who are in the most danger. And, when the city reopens and seeks to return to business as usual, it is those same people, many of whom are disproportionately front-line workers, who bear the risk of infection in unsafe working conditions. The government’s speed and effectiveness in administering a police state stand in sharp relief to its inefficiency in protecting and creating space for its most vulnerable citizens.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Victor Fernandez • Wednesday, June 3
Today’s actions saw the largest attendance of any of the Los Angeles protests so far. West Hollywood saw thousands march and downtown LA saw about 10,000 rally in front of city hall and the “Hall of Justice” courthouse. I attended the downtown rally. The majority of the protest was a young diverse crowd. At the head of the march, 'Black Lives Matter' organizers gave speeches.
The politics of the rally were notable. While the mainstream media is focusing on the immediate demands of the protesters: the charging of the other officers and in upping the charges against killer cop Derek Chauvin; the rallies are focusing more around defunding LAPD and removing District Attorney Jackey Lacey. Thus, while the murder of George Floyd was the spark that ignited this rebellion, it also opened up years of pent up anger at police immunity and over-saturated police budget in Los Angeles. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s budget proposal gives 54% to police while making cuts elsewhere. Currently the Mayor is promising a review of the police budgets and possible cuts as well as other reforms. However, he is using this as a cover to make other cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Back in Minneapolis, killer cop Chauvin will be handed a second degree murder charge and the other officers will receive charges as well. It is crucial that the movement sees this as a victory! This is important especially during the times when victories are few and far between. However, the movement should also see this victory as a first step into a continued struggle. Charging cops with murder is one thing, but getting them to go to jail for years is another. Similarly, aside from jailing killer cops, there are other structural demands that the movement could win. Thus, the movement is entering another phase.
What is different about these protests as opposed to previous anti-police brutality protests has been both quantitative and qualitative. The protests have been very diverse. Also, now the protests have larger amounts of support from a wider layers of the population, including some support, albeit a bit hollow, from police. It was surreal seeing LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva talk on live TV about the need to charge the three other cops involved in George Floyd’s murder, just days after his officers attacked protesters.
We are seeing the typical reaction that a state has against a rebellious population. First, suppress the movement. That failed, and thousands more have come out onto the streets. Now they are trying supplication, giving us the smallest concessions possible in hopes that we stop protesting. It is our job now as activists to make sure that fails and to continue organizing to make this movement larger and more powerful while preparing a new generation of activists for the long road ahead.
BEACON, NEW YORK
Marie Edwards & Eric Fretz • Saturday, June 6
In the small town of Beacon, 60 miles north of New York City, protesters marched four times in the past ten days. The third protest, again called by young townspeople, was the largest and most vibrant. There were well over a thousand protesters marching and chanting on their way to a rally at a riverside park, stopping only to silently take a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds—the amount of time it took for the Minneapolis police officer to murder George Floyd. This was a multi-racial crowd, with seasoned activists far outnumbered by those new to protests, and all getting more radicalized as the rebellion around the country has kept on growing.
For many people of color, their fight against the brutality and often deadly violence inflicted on them by the police and a racist system had left them feeling isolated and ignored. However, in Beacon and other smaller towns, many on these protests have expressed joyful surprise that so many white people are marching with them. Here, the mixed marches are majority white, and led by young people of color. Everyone was in full support of Black lives, and seemed to have a profound understanding that this is one struggle concerning us all.
A speaker at the rally succinctly expressed this thought when she said: “We don’t want allies, we want accomplices.” She explained that allies can walk away, but as an accomplice, we’re in this together. Fighting for the same thing, “we will win or we will go down together.”
When the newly elected mayor, Lee Kyriacou, went up to speak, he started by reading a letter from a Republican in the local legislature, Marc Molinaro. As expected, it was full of platitudes. The second letter the mayor read was from the Beacon police department, expressing their support for the protesters and their cause. “Every one of us is with you,” read the Mayor without comment. He was then interrupted by the young woman organizer who to his face told him: “Excuse me Mr Mayor, but that letter was bullshit.” The crowd then roared with support and applause for her.
Trembling with emotion, but scared because of the possibility of police retaliation, she recounted her encounters with the Beacon police, and the stories she had heard. She then called on people in the audience who had been harassed by the Beacon police to come up front. Out of the mixed crowd came enough black individuals to fill the stage, and each told their story.
This takes place in the context of Minneapolis mayor Mayor Jacob Frey being booed off the stage, in a rally the same day. Young people are tired of hearing this empty talk of police reform, even as a so-called progressive politician runs on that very same platform. The rage is now directed not only at the out and out racists in government and in the country, but includes mayors such as de Blasio in New York City and Jacob Frey of Minneapolis. Their support for the racist police departments in their cities has finally debunked any kind of idea that these people are on our side. Clearly, these liberal mayors are not our accomplices.
Kyriacou had fought for police reforms and accountability while on the city council, and even been unsuccessfully sued by the Beacon police. But as Mayor the pressure of “practical politics” in the job, including from the Police department, means he still backed the status quo. He ended up sounding hostile while defending his record to the crowd, who were demanding much bigger changes than he could agree with.
This is the beginning of a new age, at least that’s what most protesters want to believe. We have seen our strength and we are all, from the high school students to the older veterans of many protests, are gaining the confidence to stand up to politicians and to the police. We are breaking down the barriers that separated us. And in the United States of America, nothing is more important than that.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Victor Fernandez • Sunday, June 7
Sunday the June 7 saw a large march called by 'Black Lives Matter LA' in Hollywood. Thousands of protesters shut down Hollywood Boulevard from Vine to La Brea. This is one of the most important tourist spots in Los Angeles and represents what most people from around the world see as Hollywood. It has the Walk of Fame, Chinese Theater, as well as various other attractions.
Compared to initial protests in Los Angeles, this protest was more festive. The organizers in these protests don’t have large sound systems, so speeches and politics from the front are hard to hear. Thus, the rest of the protests take a life of their own. Further away from the center of the protest, people shut down intersections with their vehicles. Being Hollywood, there were plenty of flashy luxury cars which stopped in the middle of the street and blasted music. Some organization had a temporary stage set up that played music. There were also hundreds of people that brought water and snacks out for the protests. There was someone walking around with pizzas just giving slices out.
The more festive nature of this protest shows that once the police stop suppressing the protests, they can not only be peaceful, but increasingly positive. Furthermore, there is a wider layer of people who are joining these protests. Thus, while the tone of the initial protests were anger with slogans explicitly aimed at the police (ACAB, Fuck12, Defund LAPD, Black Lives Matter, I Can’t Breathe), signs at this rally showed a wider range of politics. There were signs urging people to support Black owned businesses, urging people to vote, etc.
It’s evident that the movement is growing and showing its power. This has brought in a wider layer of society as well as a range of politics about what its possible next steps and demands are. It is important for activists in the movement to converge the movement in a set of demands that can confront the power, funding, and existence of the police - while fighting for demands that put funds taken from police into services that combat the inequality faced by working people in our society, particularly people of color.
Already many Democrats, including Bernie Sanders, are pushing back against de-funding of police departments. This means that we must build our movement strong enough to win our demands in spite of whatever politicians want.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Eric Fretz & Marie Edwards • Sunday, June 7
Every day for ten days now, there have been multiple marches in several boroughs of New York City. Each morning, you can visit @JusticeForGeorgeNYC on Instagram to see a compiled list for the day. Often you have no idea who organized which protest, but it doesn’t seem to matter. The angry, and often jobless, population keeps coming out.
Many marches continue into the night, despite the curfew and pervasive police violence against protesters that escalates after dark. As George R. related on a Brooklyn demonstration, often, when faced with large crowds, “cops are mellow and distant in daylight…then they turn into werewolves.” Sometimes, as marchers drift away, separate protests will combine to maintain a critical mass. Other times blocked protests will split, dividing the forces of the police.
Sunday, June 7 was the first day of protests after Mayor de Blasio backed down and canceled the 8pm curfew. On one of the many protests in Manhattan, many thousands of jubilant and masked protesters met at 2pm in Union Square, on Manhattan’s 14th Street, and started with cheers to march uptown, passing lines of unmasked police, restrained but looking miserable.
The march felt festive on such a glorious sunny day, but the protesters were deadly serious. The chants kept rising: 'Black Lives Matter!' 'George Floyd! Breanna Taylor!' And of course, 'No Justice, No Peace!' The signs were almost all handmade, 'Black Lives Matter' (BLM) the most ubiquitous. “Defund” and “Abolish” the police were popular signs on the marches in a way they were not in the Ferguson rebellion, or previous BLM marches in NYC. Those chants were also made, and it didn’t seem a reach.
As Dawn, one newly radicalized young woman who had recently joined DSA understood it, the police had not been around forever. “The police were formed to capture run-away slaves and to break strikes,” she said, and was sure they could not change much from their origins. She, and another DSA member on the march, could not understand why the large socialist organization had not mobilized a visible contingent for the demonstration.
Reginald B. was walking his bicycle in the march. He said he was active in the Reclaim Pride organizing, and had passed two other protests that day before deciding to join this one. We agreed that the real looting in society was by the rich destroying the lives of most people. At the end of our long conversation he said he thought society was now reaching a “tipping point.” The same feeling was expressed by other marchers.
“F**k Fox News, we chanted while passing their 48th St. headquarters, “F**k Trump!” outside the Trump Hotel on 59th. After stopping and chanting against this administration, the protest again parted police lines and marched up Central Park West, cutting across the park at 79th Street to Gracie Mansion, the official Mayor’s residence, for a short protest, and then uptown to meet another contingent that had marched from the Bronx through Harlem.
While we marched, Mayor de Blasio announced he planned to cut some of the police budget and divert it to social services. While “Defund the Police” is becoming a major demand of the movement, protesters scoffed at the de Blasio proposal, which did not specify the size of cuts to the $6 billion dollar NYPD budget, still to be negotiated with the City Council. The Democratic Socialists of America have joined in the organizing around “defund the police,” and in NYC had previously called for a cut of $1 billion.
For more and more protesters on the street, these small concessions seem just to signal the weakness of a system faced with a growing popular rebellion. At one point, the Manhattan protesters all took a knee to chant “Let’s make history!”
In Brooklyn on Sunday, demonstrations took place in Crown Heights, Grand Army Plaza, Dumbo and McCarren Park. One loud and multi-racial demonstration left the Barclay’s Center, often used as a starting point, and packed the streets marching to Grand Army Plaza, before continuing on.
The same day, a local ICE watch spotted Trump’s brutal and racist immigration enforcement officers waiting outside the 88th precinct in Brooklyn, another example of how the limits on NYPD co-operation with ICE in this “sanctuary city” are routinely ignored. While immigrant advocates scrambled to get to the location, they were able to call for massive reinforcements by contacting the Brooklyn marches, and having one in the vicinity swing by. Every day the ability of the multi-racial working class to organize itself, show solidarity and connect issues becomes clearer.
Protesters have also been able to document the police violence unleashed on marches, gassing with tear gas and pepper spray, hitting anyone within reach, kettling and then arresting thousands of peaceful protesters, beating reporters and arresting legal observers. But rather than deterring them, this has only heightened the anger at the institution, and brought more out to oppose it. Perhaps that is why de Blasio looks to have quietly called back the aggression of the police over the last few days. From the Trump administration down to small town mayors and police chiefs, the ruling class is split about how to react to the continuing marches. Views range from overwhelming shows of force and violent repression on one hand, to expressions of sympathy, tolerating marches that tire themselves out, and quickly providing reversible reforms on the other hand. But the protests continue.
Throwing racism into the mix has always proved a very effective tool in keeping a population in fear while dividing people from their natural allies. All of this is being challenged today in these large, youthful, multiracial protests. To end systemic racism needs systemic changes, this is why protesters are marching for, day after day, seemingly growing in number and intent, all along questioning the very foundations of this society. Many marchers are also understanding that this country is now at a tipping point, the old order being challenged in a fundamental way. They do not want to go back to the old rotten ways of the world. They understand that a new world is possible, and the only way to get there is to keep fighting. No Justice No Peace!
This article first appeared on the marx21 (US) Website. Reproduced with permission