Massive March in New York Demanding Justice for Freddie Gray and Other Victims of Police Violence

Human Rights

More than 1, 500 protesters marched through the streets of New York City Friday evening after six Baltimore officers involved in Freddie Gray’s arrest were charged in his death earlier in the day. “May Day for Freddie Gray! May Day for Freddie Gray!” chanted throughout the three-hour long march from Union Square to Foley Square.

At least one man was  arrested near Union Square after he  jumped a barricade. “I’ll be back,” the man said as officers walked him off in handcuffs and hundreds of onlookers cheered him on. Several bottles were thrown at officers outside the barricades moments later, with one bursting near them after hitting the ground. Outside of that, there were no major conflicts between officers and protesters.

Wednesday night’s march, however, was much more intense. More than 140 people were arrested after thousands of people gathered at Union Square then broke off into small groups and marched through several neighborhoods. Some of the protesters taken into custody were seen being thrown to the ground and handled aggressively.

City Councilman Jumaane Williams said he wanted to show up at Friday’s protest because he was troubled by reports of police officers being overly aggressive with protesters Wednesday night.

“It very much disturbed me and made me concerned that there might have been too much of an aggressive tone,” Williams, who represents several neighborhoods in central Brooklyn, told AlterNet. “The balance has to be struck but if protesters are going to take over the streets and block the bridges and tunnels, which I believe is a legitimate form of non-violent protest, there’s going to be arrest in exchange for that. So I think we have to find that balance and understand that’s going to happen. The police are going to do there job, but it should be done without aggression and in a non-violent way.”

Walking outside of the tightly barricaded throng of protesters marching in support of Freddie Gray was a man who says that he too was abused by police and could have ended up just like the Baltimore man whose death has set off protests in major cities across the country.

“Last year, I was beaten by the police,” David Matos, 25, told AlterNet as he walked backwards down 14th Street in Manhattan. “I don’t like to think about it. I’ve been traumatized by it. I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, I’m just here marching with my brothers and sisters. My real brothers and sisters, not those I thought I could look up to for safety who beat me badly on July 4 last year.”

Matos said the incident occurred around 2:45 a.m. when he tried to get help from officers to help resolve a conflict with his ex-girlfriend after they left a nightclub. He was a long-time volunteer with the NYPD’s Explorer Program, which helps young people learn more about careers in law enforcement, so he assumed it would be OK to get their help. It wasn’t. After Matos’ ex-girlfriend ran behind him and yelled that  he stole her wallet, the officers quickly slammed him to the ground and beat him inside of a police car, he recalled. The girlfriend then recanted her claim after seeing the cops hit Matos repeatedly before driving him away. Matos said he was locked up for more than 30 hours, including 18 hours in a psychiatric ward. He was released and charged with disorderly conduct.

When asked if he wanted to file a complaint against the officers, he shook his head and said, “I’m tired.”

Friday’s march had none of the photo-op moments of Wednesday night of people screaming as they were dragged off in handcuffs. Organizers had a permit to march in a tightly barricaded route from Union Square to Foley Square, which upset some of the marchers who felt the space was too restrictive.

“Open up the barricades! Tear down the barricades!,” some of the protesters shouted.

The barricades didn’t move.

One woman outside of the barricade on 2nd Avenue complained to AlterNet that it kept her from joining the protesters. “(The police) are saying that we have to join the protesters where the protest started and that’s violating my rights,” Annette said, only wanting to give her first name. “I should be able to join the protest at any point that I want to.”

When AlterNet asked a police officer if it was true that people had to join the march where it started in order to participate, he said “Where is she?” and asked the reporter to point her out so he could let her in. It was too late. She disappeared into congested crowds of people looking at the marchers from the outside.

Adet Gernay, 21, said that the arrest of the officers involved in Gray’s death was a great first step but the reality is that more bad officers must be held accountable.

“This is not right,” she told AlterNet. “This is not fair. Everyone’s lives are equal. We’re living in a society where we have been plagued with 400 years of racism that still stands to this day. Nothing has changed since MLK.” She continued on, “Just because we have six officers (who have been charged) with the sad murder of Freddie Gray it doesn’t end the struggles that we are fighting for today.”

As the march came to a close at Foley Square, the remaining protesters gathered around microphone. Matos, the young man who said he was abused by police last year, was the first to take the mic and gave an emotional speech.

“I was traumatized! I was diagnosed with PTSD. A bullshit title. It doesn’t mean shit. You know what that means? It means that we are now awake,” he shouted to the crowded as the cheered him on. “I was scared to leave my home for two straight weeks. My own home. Because I was beaten by my own brothers and sisters. Fuck them. You are my brothers and sisters.”

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