Hurricane Sandy stormed Staten Island a few years ago leaving behind strewn homes, boats and homeless residents but on Aug. 23,– the 25th anniversary of the murder of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn — thousands flooded the island borough to protest the choke-hold killing of Eric Garner and in the aftermath, peace prevailed.
Although throngs of whites, Latinos, Asians, Blacks, and multi-racial Americans arrived in buses, cars, ferries and on foot, the ethnically diverse, intergenerational assembly peacefully assembled to march in protest of an unjust police killing and to send a message that unjustified behavior will not be tolerated and must stop.
They converged around a triangle bordering Victory Blvd. and Bay St. and inside Tompkinsville Park near the spot the 43-year-old husband, son and father of six died after Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo used his arm to restrain the asthmatic victim.
Attempting to arrest the individual they accused of selling loose cigarettes, Pantaleo caused the death of Garner, a man many described as “a gentle giant.”
The masses rallied early on a cloudy Saturday as organizer, Rev. Al Sharpton spoke inside the Mount Sinai United Christian Church during his weekly National Action Network radio broadcasts aired on WLIB-AM. Rain threatened throughout the overcast day but a steady stream of marchers ignored the threats braving impending rainy weather in order to show solidarity with the family grieving the July 17 side-walk killing which was videotaped and released by bystander, 22-year-old Ramsey Orta.
The floodgates seemed to open widest at Bay St. where a procession walked uphill to the 120th police precinct where thousands had congregating for hours before marching to a rallying area at a ballpark. Quakers, members of the Nation of Islam, a group carrying a banner that identified them as Organizing Asian Community, individuals waving flags of Jamaica, Palestine, Puerto Rico, Ethiopia, and the Black Liberation colors of black, green and red, coalesced with whites leading the chants, “Hands Up – Don’t Shoot,” “Black Lives Matter,””They say Jim Crow, the people say, hell no,” “Only God is Above The Law,” and “Fists Up – Guns Down.”
Some carried signs reading “We are all Michael Brown” in memory of the Ferguson, Mo. Teenager who was shot and killed by police there on Aug. 9.
Others carried signs reading – “Google it – Israel Trains the NYPD,” “The Power of the people is stronger than the People In Power.”
A white young man plastered a sign on his back reading “Unarmed Civilian” as if to ward off skeptical police officers who may shoot and later suggest he might have been carrying a dangerous weapon.
As crowds waited the end of the 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. radio broadcast, spontaneous shouts of “No Justice, No Peace, No profit” amplified. With iron barriers placed to contain the crowds, protesters mobilized securing posters and banner from volunteers.
“Justice For Garner” buttons were handed out by members of the 1199 SEIU. New York State Nurses Association gave fans demanding the same and National Action Network furnished placards.
Police helicopters hovered above as an abundance of officers from many precincts found presence along a carefully defined route. Community affairs officers were predominant and a cadre representing the police press office efficiently and professionally attempted to project the most positive image of the NYPD.
Victimized mothers whose children were killed by members of NYPD joined the throngs. Among them Constance Malcolm, the mother of Ramarley Graham who after two and a half years is still seeking justice after NYPD Officer Richard Haste shot and killed her unarmed 18-year-old son. Reportedly cops illegally broke into her Bronx apartment without a warrant and in the presence of her six-year-old child murdered her teenage son.
Killer cop Haste remains free of any charges despite the community’s call for an independent probe into the tragic and illegal incident.
Malcolm joined Sharpton, Rev. Herbert Daughtry, City Councilman Jumaane Williams, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, former Gov. David Paterson and a long list of dignitaries who attended the justice rally.
Outraged by the blatant disregard of human and civil rights by police officers, demonstrators shouted “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” in protest of the Ferguson police and “I Can’t Breathe” to acknowledge the dying pleas Garner made before collapsing to the pavement.
Syndicated, radio personality Tom Joyner, Malaak Shabazz, daughter of Dr. Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X aka El Hajj Malik Shabazz, attorney Ron Kuby, Yusef Salaam — one of the men who was allegedly framed by the NYPD for raping a jogger and now known as one of the Central Park Five – were prominently present at the peaceful march and rally.
“This is not a march against police, the first African-American governor of New York State said. “It is a march against rogue police and those who think they are police — like George Zimmerman.”
While speaker after speaker deplored the consistent killings of Black men by law enforcement agents, Gov. Paterson seemed most impacting recalling the names and dates of the killings of Harlem resident James Powell, 50 years ago, Michael Stewart (1983), Eleanor Bumpers (1984), Abner Louima (1997) Amadou Diallo (1999), Anthony Baez (1994), Ramarley Graham (2012), Sean Bell (2006), Randolph Evans (1975), Clifford Glover (1973) and Arthur Miller (1978) who were all killed by members of the NYPD.
To punctuate his insightful recollection the former governor added: “My father (Basil) was pistol-whipped 72 years ago by police when he was 16-years-old.”
As marchers walked along Bay St. at 60 where the Staten Island Youth Justice Center is located, a young mother sheltered her one-month-old son from a slight drizzle.
“I had to bring him here, I have to march to prevent anything like this happening to him.”
At Stuyvesant Place, using a walker to aid her steps, a senior citizen struggled uphill.
From Slosson Terrace, Hyatt Street past the Staten Island Borough Hall the crowd swelled.
“Thank you so much,” Garner’s widow Esaw said. Her words choking with sorrow she confessed “I don’t even know what to say.” “They did wrong they need to pay.”
“They will not cry alone,” Sharpton interjected before saying: “We are here by the thousands not to tear down but to build up.”
The activist/television/radio broadcaster and preacher said he plans to mobilize a combined Garner/Brown rally in Washington D.C. when the congress convenes after summer recess.
“This is so overwhelming,” Garner’s mother said “we are going to keep on praying …we know if we wait on God, justice will prevail.”