2015: A year of protests in America

A protester throws a gas canister back at police during clashes at North Ave and Pennsylvania Ave in Baltimore, Maryland April 28, 2015. © Eric Thayer
From ‘Black Lives Matter’ to ‘Fight for 15,’ the year of 2015 saw a surge of protests all across the nation.

January

Protesters around the country kicked off the 2015 with a Black Lives Matter demonstration against police brutality.

On New Year’s Eve, about 100 demonstrators gathered at New York City’s iconic Times Square, where Mayor Bill de Blasio and his family presided over the annual ball drop, to stage a ‘die-in.’ Marchers didn’t manage to get onto the square itself, due to the massive number of revelers attending.

On the West Coast, the largest New Year’s march was held in Oakland, California, against perceived police force.  Over 200 activists staged a noise demonstration where voices, electronics, musical instruments and fireworks were used as a means to get message out, but instead attract a large police presence. After unruly protesters lobbed bottles at the police who were cordoning them off, 29 people were arrested.

Later in the month, 23 Black Lives Matter activists were arrested after chaining themselves to barrels and blocking both sides of an interstate near Boston.

"Today, our nonviolent direct action is meant to expose the reality that Boston is a city where white commuters and students use the city and leave, while black and brown communities are targeted by police, exploited, and displaced," protester Katie Seitz said in a statement.

February

On February 10,  Antonio Zambrano-Montes of Pasco, Washington was shot and killed by three police officers after throwing rocks at cars and at least one “softball size” rock at officers, and ignored orders to stop.

Around 1,000 people protested the 35 year-old’s death on February 12, and the Foreign Ministry of Mexico condemned the shooting, since Zambrano-Montes was born and raised in that country.

In Madison, Wisconsin, 5,000 trade unionists surrounded the state capitol in Madison right-to-work legislation an February 28. The legislation prevented private trade unions from demanding collective dues from employees who are not trade union members, and was supported by Gov. Scott Walker.

“I want a commander in chief who will do everything in their power to ensure that the threat from radical Islamic terrorists does not wash up on American soil. If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” Walker, who would later enter the presidential race, had previously said at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

In response to this, demonstrators held placards reading “Kill the union death bill” and “I am not a terrorist.”

On February 28, activists braved freezing temperatures in Chicago and demanded a thorough investigation in Homan Square, a criminal detention center in the city that they compared to a CIA black site. The #Gitmo2Chicago hashtag aimed to draw attention to the allegations of detainees being tortured and having their constitutional rights being violated by police.

March

On March 1, members of the Los Angeles Police Department shot and killed an unarmed mentally ill homeless man named Africa, even though he was being restrained by three other officers. Smartphone footage of the incident was released a day later, triggering an avalanche of outrage on social media and protests in front of the LAPD headquarters.

In the early morning of March 12, two officers were shot during a protest against alleged police racism outside of the Ferguson, Missouri police station. One officer was shot in the face and another in the shoulder, but both recovered from their injuries. On March 14, 20-year-old black male Jeffrey L. Williams was arrested in connection with the shooting.

These police officers were standing there and they were shot, just because they were police officers,” Chief Jon Belmar said.

April

On April 14, protesters gathered in New York City and around the United States to rally against police brutality and a spike in officers killing unarmed black men, and spread the message on social media using the #ShutDownA14 hashtag. Several arrests were made after protesters shut down the Brooklyn Bridge.

On April 15, thousands of fast-food employees walked off the job to rally for a higher minimum wage as part of the nationwide ‘Fight for 15’ campaign. Large sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience occurred coast-to-coast, including cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit.

McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook subsequently announced that starting pay at the company-owned restaurants would be set at $1 above local minimum wage, starting July 1, reaching $10 per hour by the end of 2016. Activists criticized this as insufficient.

On April 19, Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man died from injuries sustain while being arrested a week earlier in Baltimore. On April 21, police released the identities of the six officers involved, escalating protests that had been going on for days. On April 23, two people were arrested for disorderly conduct and the destruction of property.

Despite Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake calling for ‘peaceful and respectful’ protests, violence broke out in downtown Baltimore, with demonstrators throwing bottles at police and smashing cars. Police in riot gear clashed with protesters, and a total of 12 people were arrested.

April 27 marked not only the funeral of Gray, but the declaration of a state of emergency in Baltimore by Gov. Larry Hogan due to riots in the city.

An aggressive and violent crowd threw rocks, bricks and bottles at police officers. Several police officers were injured, and protesters refused to listen to law enforcement and disperse.

The National Guard was activated, with 2,000 troops arriving at the city on April 28 with armored vehicles and military gear. The service was ordered to be withdrawn from Baltimore on May 3, when the protests and riots ended.

On April 29, a week-long, city-wide curfew by initiated by Gov. Hogan went into effect.

“We are not going to have another night like this,” Gov. Hogan said on Tuesday. “We are going to make sure the city is brought back to peace.”

In response, protesters gathered to resist the strict measure, intentionally violating the curfew. Seven were arrested for being out protesting past 10:00 p.m.

In Ferguson, also on the night of April 29, three people were shot during a protest that was meant to show solidarity with the protests and riots in Baltimore, resulting in two people being arrested.

An April 30 Freddie Gray protest in downtown Philadelphia also took a hectic turn, with scuffles between activists and policemen arising as protesters showing solidarity with Baltimore pushed through a police line.

May

Nationwide Freddie Gray protests continued into early May,  turning into a riot in Seattle on the first of the month. In response, police deployed flashbangs, pepper spray and tear gas in an attempt to get the crowd under control. Three officers were injured and 15 protesters were arrested.

"As we continue to witness acts of violence from protesters, we urge folks on Capitol Hill to exercise caution," Seattle Mayor Ed Murray in a statement. "Seattle Police are advising that businesses on Broadway and other Capitol Hill streets should take reasonable precautions to protect their employees and customers. Police will continue to work to protect people and property in the area, and will make arrests when necessary."

May 13 saw protests in Madison, Wisconsin that erupted in a response to the decision not to indict the police officer who shot Tony Robinson, an unarmed 19-year-old black man. At least 25 protesters were arrested as a group linked arms to block traffic in the middle of the street in front of the city’s courthouse.

Fight for 15 protests were rekindled on May 20, with thousands of workers and activists marching on the McDonald’s corporate headquarters a day before the company’s annual shareholder meeting, resulting in the building being shut down.

On May 22, tens of thousands demonstrators across the United States took part in the worldwide ‘March Against Monsanto’ that aimed to highlight the company’s control of the food supply, and diseases linked to chemicals that they use.

"People are fed up. We should break up Monsanto," Adam Eidinger of Occupy Monsanto told RT. "Monsanto is a monopoly, and it's acting like one. It's basically controlling 90 percent of the seed market in the United States. We wouldn't let one cell phone company control 90 percent of the cell phones. But for some reason we let food be controlled."

On March 24, anti-police brutality protests resulted in arrests in Oakland, California. The demonstrations, which were attended by about 150 activists, were sparked by Mayor Libby Schaaf proposing a nighttime protest ban. Dozens of protesters were arrested.

June

On June 1, about 100 demonstrators assembled in Menlo Park, California, protested Facebook’s ‘real name policy,’ carrying signs that read, "My Name Is My Business," "Facebook exposed me to my abuser" and "Your apology was a lie." Many of those protesting were drag queens and Native Americans, groups whose members' names were often flagged as fake.

"It is malicious and targeted bullying against our community and all of those users," said Sister Roma, a drag queen.

Facebook took a small step back from the policy on December 15, making their name reporting policy more rigorous and allowing for alternative ways to identify the authenticity of a user’s name beyond the original requirements of state IDs and credit cards.

On June 8, hundreds of people took to the streets in McKinney, Texas, following the incident with a police officer pulling a gun on black teenagers at a private pool party that they crashed, resulting in violent arrests. The officer who drew his gun on the teens subsequently resigned.

On June 29, a brawl broke out at the Columbia, South Carolina statehouse between those calling for the flag’s removal and those who supported it remaining on government grounds. WE NEED TO EXPLAIN  WHY THERE WERE PROTESTS About 10 flag supporters clashed with 30 flag protesters, with some ending up with bloodied faces. The flag was ultimately removed on July 10.

July

On July 17, Several thousand people gathered in New York at a protest marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner from Staten Island. Garner died after being placed in a chokehold by police, and protesters are still demanding reform. At least two-dozen people were arrested.

On July 30, a town hall meeting in Ferguson, Missouri turned violent. Protestors gathered outside the building to call for Mayor Knowles to resign, eventually making their way inside.The situation escalated into physical brawls between white and black residents. Three arrests were made, though only one person was taken to custody.

August

August 9, the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, protests erupted throughout the Missouri city for a two-day period. Though demonstrations were originally peaceful, two groups of looters began firing at each other. The next day, a state of emergency was declared, and about 50 protesters, including prominent activist Cornel West, were arrested in front of the federal courthouse, at a rally organized on the anniversary of Michael Brown's death.

Later that night, protests turned violent when police arrived on the scene in riot gear, with demonstrators throwing rocks and bottles at officers. More than 100 protesters were arrested throughout the demonstrations.

On August 17, activists opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal occupied the Washington, DC offices of investment firm Morgan Stanley after pushing past security. Morgan Stanley is one of many US companies supporting the TPP, and has spent almost $10 million on lobbying over the past three years.

September

On September 2, parents protested the closing of their children’s school in Chicago, Illinois by participating in a 2.5-week hunger strike to protest and marching on Washington to deliver a letter to the US secretary of education. The Chicago Teachers Union called Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to close the school as “racist” and “classist,” and protesters had been refused a meeting with the mayor.

October

On October 9, hundreds of gun rights activists protested Obama visiting Roseburg, Oregon following the school shooting in the community that killed nine people. Protesters resented the commander-in-chief’s using their town’s tragedy to push for more gun control.

One protester, Willie Windom, said that Obama was “politicizing the shooting at the college for his own gains. He wants to take away gun rights,” and then went on to say, “This country used to have a lot of respect from everybody else. Now we’ve got no respect whatsoever. When Vladimir Putin starts to look good by comparison, we’re in trouble.”

On October 22, hundreds gathered in New York City’s Times Square on Thursday, launching a three-day protest against officer-involved killings, brutality and mass incarceration dubbed ‘Rise Up October.’ At least a dozen people were arrested on October 23 after protesters gathered near the infamous Rikers Island prison to call attention to brutality towards inmates.

Noted filmmaker Quentin Tarantino took part in Rise October protests, leading to the NYPD police union to call for a boycott of his films.

November

On November 8, protests erupted at the University of Missouri due to allegations of racist incidents on campus, some of which later turned out to be hoaxes. Hunger strikes and demonstrations ultimately led to the university’s president and the university system’s chancellor stepping down.

The protests drew criticism for their hostility to the media and to the concept of free speech, building “safe spaces” where reporters and people who disagreed with them were not allowed.

Fight for 15 protests returned on November 10, with low-wage workers in over 200 cities across the country striking for a higher minimum age. New York mayor Bill de Blasio joined protesters to show his support.

“In New York City, we have well over a million people who don’t make 15 dollars an hour – a million people trying to struggle to get by. And this movement shined a light on that reality and said: ‘we’re not going to go on like that,’” the mayor said to a group of demonstrators.

On November 24, protests erupted after a video showed Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black male armed with a knife, being shot 16 times by a police officer in Chicago. Protests began in Chicago, but spread to other cities across the United States. Three activists were arrested during the first night of demonstrations in Chicago.

Demonstrations continued for days, with protesters on Black Friday on November 27 intending to block access to commercial locations on the shopping holiday. This intersected with the annual protest of Walmart employees demanding $15 an hour from the retail giant.

December

On December 1, in response to protests about the death of Laquan McDonald, Chicago’s police superintendent was forced to resign amid calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s top prosecutor Anita Alvarez to step down.

Protests continued throughout December, with protesters marching through downtown Chicago on December 9, blocking traffic as they reiterated their demands for the mayor to resign.

On December 16, Chicago law enforcement officers arrested 16 people demonstrating against police brutality in the city. Those taking part in the rally held a sit-in, blocking a busy intersection as they once again demanded the resignation of Mayor Emanuel.

On December 27, protests broke out in response to a Chicago police officer shooting and killed a 19-year-old student and his 55-year-old neighbor, a mother of five, after responding to a domestic disturbance call. The grieving mother of the teenager said she had been hoping to “get help” from police.  

Hundreds of people gathered on the streets of the city, claiming that police are killing civilians instead of protecting them.