​Protest against police brutality invades NYC’s Times Square

Under the rainy skies of New York City, several hundred people marched into Times Square, protesting police brutality and calling for reform and justice on behalf of those killed by law enforcement.

The event – dubbed the “National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality” – highlighted therecent deathof Eric Garner, who was killed this summer after a New York Police Department officer placed him in a chokehold.

Relatives of other local victims were also present, including Nicholas Heyward, whose son was shot by an officer mistaking his toy gun for a real one 20 years ago, and mother Hawa Bah, whose son was shot inside of his apartment in 2012.

Organized by the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, the rally began at Union Square around 1 pm on Wednesday. Some protesters carried signs with drawings of victims on them, while others played music as people marched roughly 30 blocks to Times Square. Various participants branded the NYPD’s behavior as illegal and equated officer-involved killings with murder.

“We have to deliver a message today: We refuse to live like this,” said Carl Dix, the co-founder of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.

Approximately 60 cities across the United States organized their own events, though the rally in New York was notable for the protesters’ plan to march into Times Square despite not having a permit from the NYPD.

Once in Times Square, protesters weaved through traffic and organized near the NYPD sub-station, where police quickly established barricades. Aside from a verbal confrontation between a demonstrator and an officer, the event was peaceful.

Many participants had heated words for law enforcement, including Eric Garner’s sister, Alicia, who argued that police are “killing with permission.”

“We’re not against all police officers,” she said, “just against the ones doing the murdering.”

In the streets, protesters chanted, “I can’t breathe,” in reference to Eric Garner’s last words before he died. Officers reportedly targeted Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes, and once one placed him in a chokehold, several others helped take him to the ground. Video of the incident shows officers did not seem to respond to his complaint that he could not breathe.

In its defense, the NYPD claims that Garner resisted arrest. A grand jury has been convened to determine whether criminal charges will be brought against any of the officers involved.

Also marching in the rally was Danette Chavis, who said her son Gregory had been killed back in 2004. She said her son was shot by a stray bullet just a short walk away from a local hospital. Two friends decided to carry him over there for medical treatment when they were allegedly intercepted by police and told to put Chavis down on the ground or face arrest.

She said when police called for help, however, they called more officers to the scene instead of paramedics. Danette said her son was left to die just one block away from the hospital, and claimed that when officers are accused of a crime, the police department does everything in its power to keep criminal charges from being filed.

“They’re protecting and serving,” she said, “but it’s not for us.”

In 2012, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, First Judicial Department, dismissed the claim that the NYPD violated Gregory Chavis' rights. It ruled that officers called for an ambulance and decided that officers did not “shock the conscious” by waiting for it to arrive instead of seeking other ways to get Chavis medical help.

Elsewhere at the march, Charles Cheatham, a social worker from Queens, said he participated in order to express his opposition to “mass incarceration and police terror; the systematic oppression that causes a hindrance to the growth and development of minorities.”

“We want to create new advocates and establish a universal language for justice in this country,” he said.

Other protesters, meanwhile, placed the shootings of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager killed by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in the context of racial tensions.

“There are people who don’t think the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown are race-related,” said Harlem resident and Columbia University student Jennie Y.

Asked what Wednesday’s event accomplished, she noted, “It’s given a lot of people a feeling of community,” adding that she “hope[s] that other people watching are more aware of how important this issue is.”

As public debate over the NYPD continues, the department announced in September that it would begin testing body cameras on its officers this fall, making it the largest police force in the US to employ such technology.

Ultimately, Nicholas Heyward said that in order to end police misconduct and reduce excessive force, people will have to look beyond politicians and apply pressure themselves.

“There is no one else we can rely on to put an end to this,” he said, “except us.”