A chanting crowd of more than 10,000 protesters marched to the U.S. Capitol on Saturday to call for an end to racial profiling by police. A few hours later, a larger protest wound through the streets of Manhattan.
Saturday’s “Justice for All” march in downtown D.C., organized by civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton, brought together supporters of two black men: Eric Garner, who died as police in Staten Island, N.Y., tried to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes; and Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Grand juries in both cases declined to indict the white officers on the scene.
The crowd snaked up Pennsylvania Avenue, a sea of brightly colored signs stretching for half a mile. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier smiled as she shook hands with marchers. Organizers later said the protest drew 25,000 people, but D.C. Police don’t routinely offer their own estimates for the size of such events.
Tawana Williams, who teaches 7th and 8th grade at Sankofa, purchased poems another protester had written for her classroom.
“My students are having a difficult time understanding how a police officer could shoot someone and not be indicted,” Williams said. “At least go to court and examine the evidence. The students just can’t understand.”
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, marveled, “What a sea of people. If they don’t see this and make a change, then I don’t know what we got to do. Thank you for having my back.”
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, called the march a “history-making moment.”
‘It’s just so overwhelming to see all who have come to stand with us today,” she said. “I mean, look at the masses. Black, white, all races, all religion. … We need to stand like this at all times.”
Protesters spanned age ranges, as well.
“My generation should have solved this problem and we didn’t,” said Barbara Cole, 77, of Florissant, Mo. She held a sign that read, “Grandmas For Change!! Enough is Enough.”
Cole’s goddaughter Carrie Harris, 59, moved from Ferguson to D.C. in September. “I lived in Ferguson for 12 years,” Harris said. “Ferguson looks like a war zone. It does not look like the town I lived in.”
Azieze Sims was one of 40 students, bundled against the cold, who had traveled to D.C. from Sankofa Freedom Academy in Philadelphia. The school raised more than $1,000 to rent a bus that brought teachers and students here.
“I want people to know that black lives do matter,” said Azieze, 16. “We are aware of what’s going on around us. It’s time for things to change.”
Malaika Hart, 39, a Sankofa teacher, stood beside Azieze nodding, holding up a three-foot cardboard cutout of a hand that read, “Don’t Shoot” in red paint.
More than 48,000 people signed up through Facebook to attend the march, and protest organizers later said the crowd, which stretched for more than a mile up Fifth Avenue, numbered 50,000. Police officially estimated the crowd’s size at 12,000.
Joining the protesters were Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis, who was killed in a parking lot dispute over loud music; Valerie Bell, the mother of Sean Bell, who was killed by New York City police in 2006; and Frank Graham, the father of Ramarley Graham, who was killed by New York City police in 2012.
In Union Square, about seven blocks north, dozens of protesters earlier mixed with shoppers picking out Christmas trees, sipping wine and haggling at an outdoor market. Demonstrators loudly chanted, “We want justice, for everyone.”
The voice of Courtney Cook flowed through the park as she screamed, “Why do I still have to fight?” and held a sign that read, “I’m more than just a skin color.”
Earlier, Cook, a professional dancer, joined several people doing improvised dance in the memory of those killed.
“I’m here today standing in solidarity with my brothers, my nephews, and my unborn sons,” said Cook, 25, of Brooklyn. “Racism is very real, so why not confront it and not sweep it under the rug?”
Ian Effendi, 17, a high school senior in the Bronx, said he led a “die-in” at the front entrance of his school on Friday. As he marched in Union Square, he said many Americans are ignoring the problems of policing that lead to fatal encounters.
“The system that is allowing killer police officers to not get indicted is broken,” he said. “If the system doesn’t get better, how are we going to trust the police?”
Akili Buchanan, a teacher from East Orange, N.J., waved an upside down American flag as he chanted along with fellow protesters. Explaining his choice to turn over the flag, Buchanan said, “America is in great disorder and disarray.”
He saw it not only in the controversial police killings, but in the USA’s actions abroad and through the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorists.
“America is seen as a terrorist state both here and abroad,” the 60-year-old said. “We need a political, economic and social transformation.”
Cindy Brown, 43, brought her son Matthew, 19, to the march because she wanted him to learn how to channel anger and frustration into peaceful protest. The pair, from West Orange, N.J., were accompanied by Matthew Brown’s sister, aunt and father. The mother, a truancy officer at an elementary school, said she hoped her children would understand that it’s their responsibility to change America. “I brought him here because I’m afraid for him every time he leaves the house.” Cindy Brown said her two daughters must also learn to fight discrimination. “They need to know what world they are coming into. It’s ugly and they need to deal with it.”
Dinetta Gilmore, 50, from Brooklyn, N.Y., came to the D.C. march to protest — and to sell buttons she designed.
“I am tired of being scared that my son is not going to make it home from work,” she said, noting that he was at the top of his class in school. “It’s time that this stops,” Gilmore said. “When are we going to be able to stop marching?”