Thousands Raise Their Voices For Eric Garner During Spirited March on Staten Island
Not too far ahead of the arm-linked band of men and women encircling the Rev. Al Sharpton, a father walked with his three young daughters, ages 6,10 and 13.
Baraka Smith, of Brooklyn, was one of many men and women who traveled to Staten Island with his young children to march in solidarity with the family of Eric Garner, who died at the hands of an NYPD officer. The officer had administered an illegal chokehold on the father of six in July.
For Smith, his young girls' presence at the rally was an elementary school lesson for black children: This could be you.
"What happened to Eric Garner, what happened to Mike Brown, could happen to me," Smith told AlterNet as the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of marchers made their way down Bay Avenue. "It could happen to them. It could happen to any of us, so they need to be aware of it."
Smith's tone reflected the voices of other adults who brought their young sons, daughters, nieces and nephews to the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island, NY, where the rally in honor of Eric Garner took place. For all of the older men and women standing on Bay Avenue this Saturday afternoon, there were as many children taking in the mood of the day.
Joseph Maldonado, who had his young son in a baby stroller, told AlterNet that he brought him to the rally because he needed to learn, at a very early age, how to stand up for his rights.
"It means something that my son know that this is an important time for him and for us to organize to make sure that this is a safe place for him as well," he said.
Union members, many from the 1199 SEIU, people waving their national flags from Haiti and other Caribbean nations, older women holding the protest signs "No Justice, No Peace," and men small talking with one another like they were chilling at their family reunions— all filled the streets of Tompkinsville in a joyful spirit that almost seemed to defy the depressing fact that everyone had gathered to bring attention to the need for a thorough investigation into the death of Garner.
But, given the unrest taking place in Ferguson, MO, where tensions over the police killing of Michael Brown have led to aggressive police tactics against protesters and property being destroyed by looters, the mood of the rally was quite welcomed. Rally organizers expected 15,000 people to show up, but perhaps more lined the streets of Bay Avenue today. There, many voices in the crowd yelled into the air their frustrations over negative experiences with law enforcement.
One outspoken gentleman opined about how politicians aren't doing anything for black people. New York City Councilman Jumaane D. Williams and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito were within ear shot of his rant, but they didn't seem to hear him. Or at least they pretended not to.
When AlterNet caught up with Williams in the shoulder-to-shoulder movement of people as they passed the Staten Island District Attorney's office, the councilman said that he was pleased with how so many New Yorkers came together to constructively exercise their right to express outrage over Garner's death. He also echoed the sentiments of many at the rally who welcome a federal investigation into Garner's death.
"One of the biggest problems is that we never have accountability when unarmed civilians are getting killed, so it's about time that we have some accountability—that somebody is held accountable, whether it was a mistake or not," Williams told AlterNet. "I don't think people want to be saying, 'I want to kill somebody.' But if you make a mistake in any other job you'd be held accountable, so we want to see that happen here. I think a federal prosecutor would be a good way to make that happen. Hopefully, the D.A. on Staten Island will make it happen but we haven't had a good history in New York City in general and in a couple of boroughs in particular."
The councilman faded into a throng of people moving towards the stage area where Rev. Sharpton, politicians and family members of slain men and women killed by NYPD cops would speak. Standing on the fence partitioning the march route was a young woman holding a wanted sign demanding the apprehension of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson cop who shot Mike Brown, and Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD cop who administered the chokehold on Garner.
Grace Akinrinade, 23, of Tompkinsville, told AlterNet that by marching for Eric Garner, she is marching for young black people as well.
"If we don't realize how important black lives are then we're basically saying to our black children that their lives don't matter," she said.
By the time the march made it to the stage area, thousands more had joined the growing crowd. Rev. Sharpton took to the stage to hype up attendees with "no justice, no peace" chants before inviting members of various community-based organizations, New York politicians and survivors of the men whose lives were lost at the hands of the NYPD to speak.
Garner's youngest daughter, Erika Garner, told the crowd that she is overjoyed at the support she and her family have received.
"I'm just so happy that y'all showed up to support us," she said. "My father is very proud right now. I know he is looking down and saying that his voice is finally being heard and people are standing up and speaking for him. I'm just overwhelmed."
Garner's sister, Ellissa Garner, told the crowd how happy she was that everyone respected the dignity of the family and didn't engage in disruptive behavior.
"I appreciate everybody being on their best behavior because we know how to act, yes? And we want to thank Rev. Al Sharpton, everybody who participated in this lovely gathering" she said. "I won't even call it a march. It's a gathering for us to stop the violence in all aspects. Not just police brutality. In all aspects. We have to stop killing one another. Hating one another. We have a lot of leaders that came out in the past and fought for us to be standing here today in unity and love and to gain each other's respect. They fought and got beat up for us to have respect. So let's respect them and show them how much we appreciate what they have done for us."
After a procession of politicians, young people and community organizers had their turn at the mic, march attendees grabbed their placards and left the rally in the same peaceful mood with which they came.