For the second time in less than a week, protests against police brutality and racial injustice led to a flurry of arrests in the middle of 34th Street.
According to an NYPD spokesman, 12 demonstrators were arrested over the course of the evening, all of them charged with disorderly conduct.
While last Friday’s protests and arrests came during a march to commemorate the death of Eric Garner, “Justice for Sandra Bland!” was the rallying cry at last night’s protest.
Bland, a 28-year-old black woman active in social justice movements, died last week in a Texas jail after being arrested during a traffic stop. Authorities claim Bland committed suicide while in her jail cell, but many are disputing this official account and an investigation is currently underway.
“They’re trying to soil her by claiming it was a suicide. The police are trying to make sure they’re not liable themselves, in order to continue the system as it is,” Daisy Villalobos, 23, of Brooklyn said as she and others marched out of Union Square. The group eventually reached 6th Avenue and turned uptown.
Along with Bland’s name, protesters shouted for justice in the cases of Kindra Chapman, an 18-year-old woman who last week died in the custody of Alabama police, and India Clarke, a 25-year-old Florida transgender woman recently beaten to death. And while the names of Michael Brown, Sean Bell, and Eric Garner could be seen on dozens of signs, Wednesday night’s rally and march was a direct demand for respect and protection of women of color.
Patrons sitting at restaurant patio tables plugged their ears as the chanting group passed by, and as with Friday’s rally, protesters were tightly confined to the sidewalk by rows of NYPD officers, who used multiple LRAD sound cannons to order protesters to disperse.
Shortly before 7 p.m., the group of around 100 protesters reached 34th Street at 5th Avenue; roughly 20 of them linked arms and sat down in the busy thoroughfare. Shoving and screaming marked the arrests, and one protester was carried away by police after he appeared to be knocked unconscious as officers scrambled to push the protesters back onto the sidewalk.
Those who weren’t arrested moved into Penn Station, where travelers stopped and shot brief videos of the crowds with their cellphones. Leaving the underground transit hub, the group also briefly marched through the 34th Street flagship Macy’s department store.
“It’s bigger than just Sandra Bland,” Dallas, Texas native Celeste Russell, 23, said as she marched with other protesters. Russell criticized America’s police culture at large, stressing that, in her eyes, “The system’s broken.”
Reaching Times Square, the group briefly collided with another protest already situated there, one rallying against the United States’ new nuclear deal with Iran, and for a moment, chants of Bland’s name were changed to “Free Palestine!” Enraged members of the anti-Iran group waved Israeli flags in protesters faces, and as one man screamed “Kill the Arabs!” another hoisted two middle fingers over his head at the marching group.
Four hours into the march, demonstrators began to steadily break off from the main group in favor of subway stations or different routes home, and by 9 p.m. only a few dozen continued to move through Bryant Park and along 42nd Street. Ms. Russell, however, stuck with the group late into the night. “As a Texas resident, it’s something that really hits home with me.”
“It’s heartbreaking. Because as a black body in this country, you’re never allowed to be innocent until proven guilty.