Lebron James and other athletes are wearing shirts "I can't breathe" to honor and protest for Eric Garner who was murdered by the police in New York.
"Hands up! Don't shoot" has become a mantra of a new movement honoring Michael Brown and others murdered by careless, racist police organizations and "covered up" by feckless District "Attorneys" and Grand "Juries."
On December 3, protestors about Brown who walked out of East High School in Denver joined the Sand Creek massacre commemoration at the steps of the State Capitol.
Patrisse Cullors, a performance artist and UCLA student, is organizing a coalition to pressure the LA police commission on its damaging black young people whom it arrests (see the story of her brother below).
And thousands are pouring out into the streets of every city, in New York spreading from Holland Tunnel and blocking traffic, to Chicago and Boston to smaller cities (see the photographs in the first article below).
An enthusiastic commentator below writes that this is bigger than the movement before the Iraq War. May it grow to have that scale for there were 2 and 1/2 million people demonstrating against the war in New York February 16, 2003 (the word "democracy," loosely used about American foreign policy, rarely applies, least of all to this miserable aggression which was confronted, here and abroad, by the largest anti-war movement before a war in all of history).
But the Black Lives Matter! movement is more significant even than Occupy which named the .0001%. (what fraction of a person, currently, is Mitt Romney or Jamie Dimon...?) For it is a mass movement, primarily of young African-Americans, to challenge the brutality of the elite and the hopelessness imposed upon them.
Further, blacks were the most opposed to the Iraq aggression of anyone in the society. And yet though lots of people participated, they were not the major force in the anti-war movement, revealing its greatest weakness. (The movement to elect Obama was comparatively integrated).
Black Lives Mattter! is, as a broader movement, one in which the Rosa Parkses of our time might emerge (read again the story of Patrisse Cullors).
With the development of capitalism and the deindustrialization of America, "American" manufacturing is now in China, as Mitt Romney chortled seeing 18 women confined to a single room, 6 triple decker bunk beds, in a Chinese factory. Black and Latino young people have, unfortunately and unwillingly, joined the ranks of what Marx named the reserve army of the unemployed. Unless they are unusually successful in class stratified schools - see Jonathan Kozol, The Shame of America: the Reapartheidization of American Schools - they find no secure or well-paying work when they leave high school. A New York Times editorial just after Obama was elected - December 29, 2008 -reported that 94% of poor black teenagers in New York were unemployed. Young men are stigmatized by the police as "gang members" even when they are not beaten in prison or shot ("walking while black"). With a criminal record, they cannot find employment or except in four states, vote. Even the army does not always accept them.
These are the background conditions for these killings.
A massive program to improve education and create jobs, perhaps focused on roads and green energy - a policy that would really stimulate the economy and contribute to a common good in America and internationally, and is therefore opposed by the rich (see Michal Kalecki and Paul Krugman) - is the proximate way out.
But no such sensible program is an alternative currently - without this kind of rebellion - in "mainstream" American politics.
That this unemployment, stigmatization and waste of lives is inconsistent with decency and democracy, the "Congress" of the rich (half of the current Congress are millionaires, 99% lawyers) notwithstanding, is obvious. The US holds 2.3 million prisoners, 5.1 million more on probation (Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow). That is 25% of the world's prisoners - more than China and the tyrannies of the Middle East including Israel combined - are held in "the land of the free" which is also the largest police state in the world. 25% of the world's prisoners held by 3% of the world's population...
Fast Food strikers are emulating, joining with this movement (see the third article below):
“Today felt different because we were doing it for the Mike Brown situation and trying to show people the significance between injustice in our workplaces and injustice in our communities,” says St. Louis
Burger King worker Carlos Robinson, who has been organizing for $15 an hour and a union for about seven months. “It’s a bigger difference when you’re doing it for more than one reason but for the same cause.”
Convenience store workers, airport workers, and home care workers joined the actions calling for $15 an hour and a union, broadening the movement still more, but what really gave Thursday its kick was the connection to the emotions (and tactics) of Ferguson activists and their nationwide supporters.
Robinson and his fellow workers staged a 'die-in' as part of their day of actions, in a North St. Louis convenience store, their bodies stretched between metal racks of chips and candy, clogging the space in an echo both of historic sit-down strikes (that Walmart workers also evoked two weeks back) and a reminder of the way Brown’s body lay in the street for four and a half hours after he was shot. 'That was an image of what injustice has been done in our community to a young teenager,' Robinson says. 'It could have been any young child that
that happened to.'"
Young white people are losing out in jobs, too. They take on massive debt to go through school. Divide and rule is the method by which the elite imposes these bizarre anti-democratic policies on an increasingly horrified public, which is now beginning to stand up (see Michael Reich, Racial Inequality: A Political Economic Analysis, Princeton, 1984).
America and Britain have taken from Israel (its oppression of the Palestinians) a model of a militarized police with heavy arms (Rand Paul rightly named this obscenity during Ferguson). If one wants to see who the country is for - who it is owned by, what contempt and fear it has of its own people - one has but to take in this phenomenon.
Black Lives Matter! is the name of an organization - and a Facebook page here and here - which is an outgrowth of, helps to organize these protests. They are now seizing the country by storm.
As the photos below show, many whites and latinos and indigenous people are joining. These are the protests of everyone who wants a decent society, not a militarized and wantonly killing one, to live in. We all should support and join them, and more importantly, in a movement of mass nonviolent civil disobedience to change the direction of the society: No racist police murders - No militarization - No society as normal until this stops...
The Unprecedented Scale of the #BlackLivesMatter Protests
The protests weren't isolated to New York alone. Just as protesters took to major highways across America late in November following the grand jury decision in Ferguson, thousands of people once again shut down roads in Chicago, Atlanta, and Boston. The demonstrations reached smaller cities, too, including Albany, Savannah, Indianapolis, Wilmington, Asheville, and many more.
After two nights of actions that followed a week of dedicated protests in the wake of the Ferguson grand-jury decision (and months of scattered protests since the August shooting of Michael Brown), it's plain that the protests are the broadest in terms of scope since the Occupy protests in 2011. They could even be the largest since the Iraq War demonstrations in 2003. Ultimately, it may be impossible to measure the scale of the protests today with respect to the protests in the U.S. of the last decade.
Protesters seemed to assemble in every part of New York, from the West Side Highway to the Brooklyn Bridge, shutting down streets and infrastructure, including the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels.
Thousands of protesters gathered in Times Square and Union Square. Social media showed people chanting a chorus of "No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police" throughout Manhattan.
Police and demonstrators, perhaps thousands of them, clashed at the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, where the protesters attempted to take the ferry to Staten Island, where Garner was killed. Protesters were numerous in that borough, too.
Decentralized demonstrations mark a difference between protests today and protests from major moments of civic unrest in the recent past. Like the Occupy protests, the actions today are widespread across the nation. But unlike those actions, today's are not clustered around any single focal points (such as Zuccotti Park). An estimated 10,000 protesters assembled in Foley Square last night, a larger gathering than almost any Occupy Wall Street action, and that was just one of the localized demonstrations in New York.
Like in New York, widespread protests in Boston had no center. People gathered on the Charlestown Bridge, in Boston Common, and at an entrance to Logan Airport, among other places. The strength of these demonstrations comes not in proof of numbers but in their geographic scope.
There were considerable demonstration in 2003 against the Iraq War, especially in major cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Some of the largest marches and actions took place in Washington, D.C., against the symbolic backdrop of the National Mall.
The protests today are different. While Rev. Al Sharpton plans to lead a National March Against Police Violence in D.C. on December 13, demonstrators are not waiting on official organization structures to mount significant actions. A march in D.C. won't reflect any sort of official count for these demonstrations. They are underway, and continuing, in places like Detroit:
And dozens of other towns and cities—with no immediate end in sight.
A young woman with a short shock of dreadlocks atop a mostly shaved head set off by chunky gold earrings joins them. She has a brisk walk, a broad smile — and a clipboard.
Patrisse Cullors, self-described "freedom fighter, fashionista, wife of Harriet Tubman," comes to the jail complex regularly in search of recruits to her 18-month-old campaign to upend what she contends is a culture of violence among deputies inside the walls.
The young man is clean cut and wearing skate shoes. He signs up for Cullors' mailing list, takes a flier for an upcoming sheriff's candidates forum her group is cosponsoring and tells her he served a month for violating his probation on a drug charge — his first stay in the county jail system.
Cullors listens, jotting down information about the man and another inmate he says may have been wrongfully arrested. She promises to put him in touch with a civil rights attorney.
"I know sometimes trouble attracts people," she tells him. "But try to stay out of it. And try to get involved, because you seem awesome."
Cullors and a small group of fellow activists have helped gain new respect and momentum in the halls of power for a once-floundering idea: creating a civilian commission to oversee the troubled L.A. County Sheriff's Department.
For more than a year, Cullors' Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails has applied steady pressure on the county Board of Supervisors, in part by trying to organize a large and unlikely bloc of county voters — former jail inmates. The coalition hopes it can become a constituency with clout in the June election to replace former Sheriff Lee Baca, who unexpectedly stepped down in January.
His department had been under scrutiny by media and advocates for years over alleged abuses in the county jails. A federal investigation led to criminal charges against 18 current and former sheriff's deputies late last year.
My son isn't the same...He'll never be the same.
"They have a legitimate point of view, a point of view that I actually agree with," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "Where we have a parting of ways is, doing what they want to do is not going to accomplish what they want to accomplish."
Still, Cullors' group made sure the issue stayed on the supervisors' radar — in part by recruiting dozens of former inmates to call Yaroslavsky's office.
Miriam Krinsky, executive director of the board-appointed blue ribbon commission that studied jail violence in 2012, appreciates the group's efforts:
"The constant drumbeat that they were able to sound underscored for everyone on the commission the importance of the work we were doing."
When Cullors was a child, her father was in and out of jail and prison on drug charges. She would write him letters when he was behind bars. He died in a homeless shelter not long after his last release from prison in 2009.
"It's been a very disturbing part of my life," the 30-year-old said. "I could have done a lot with that experience. I could have just been angry and sort of bitter, or I could do what I'm doing now."
But her quest to reform the jail system stems mostly from her older brother's experience. Just after his 20th birthday in 1999, Monte Cullors was arrested on charges of evading an officer. Patrisse, then 16, said he had been joy-riding in their mother's car and fled from police.
While in jail awaiting trial, Monte had a confrontation with a deputy. In a complaint he sent to a law firm later, he acknowledged he punched the deputy, but said he then put his hands up in surrender. He said a group of deputies beat and choked him until he blacked out and woke up in a pool of his own blood.
According to the deputies' account transcribed in court records, Monte had attacked a deputy who was trying to transport him after a psychiatric evaluation and lunged at another deputy who came to the first one's aid.
Monte was diagnosed with schizoaffective and bipolar disorders during his stint in jail.
Monte was convicted of battery on an officer as well as the original charge of evading police and sentenced to 40 months in state prison. He later approached a law firm in hopes of suing the Sheriff's Department, but the firm rejected the case. Monte has continued to struggle with mental illness and has since served another prison term — Patrisse helped raise $10,000 for an attorney who negotiated a plea bargain and shortened sentence.
She channeled her pain into activism. At 18, she began volunteering with the Bus Riders Union, a public transportation advocacy group organized by the Labor and Community Strategies Center, a Los Angeles think tank. A few years later, she went to work for the center and launched a program to train high school students in political organizing.
"I think she doesn't see her work as different from her life," said Mark-Anthony Johnson, an organizer with the coalition and friend of Patrice Cullors' since high school. "Her life is her work."
Cullors was finishing up a degree in religion and philosophy at UCLA in January 2012 when an alert from the American Civil Liberties Union landed in her inbox.
"I felt like there was finally a voice that was being given to the folks who are voiceless," she said, "not just the people who are incarcerated here, but the family members."
She created a piece of performance art, recording herself reading documents her mother had kept about her brother's case — notes of phone conversations and messages left with jail staff — and playing it as performers depicting inmates pasted an enlarged copy of the ACLU complaint to a wall. Soon after, she and five friends began organizing outside the jails.
Coalition member Sandra Neal, whose son was a plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit, recalled getting a call from Cullors soon after the group formed. Cullors told Neal about the work she was trying to do and shared her brother's story.
"I remember vividly becoming very emotional, because that's exactly what I felt there was a need for," Neal said. "I think we were both crying on the phone, because we really connected, and I said, 'I'm in.'"