‘We don’t need any more politicians telling us to calm down’: Brooklyn burns as protesters demand action over police killing of George Floyd

Residents of Brooklyn take to the streets to protests years of inaction over police brutality against black people

Richard Hall
New York
Monday 01 June 2020 01:35
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George Floyd: Brooklyn protests

The march made its way through Brooklyn’s wide avenues to the sound of cars honking their horns and people cheering from their windows. It wasn’t until it reached the neighbourhood of Flatbush that it met a large police presence.

It was a fitting location for the protesters to make their point. Seven years ago, not far down the road from where the two sides met, 16-year-old Kimani Gray was shot dead by plainclothes police officers. Of the seven bullets that struck him, three were found in his back. No one was indicted for his death.

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis may have sparked the protests that are taking place across the country, but each community and city has their own stories of police brutality against the black community. It is that cycle of violence and inaction that has caused such anger and brought people on to the streets of Brooklyn.

“I’m here because I’m tired. I’m tired of talking. I’m tired of praying. I’m tired of writing letters. I’m ready for results,” said Dia Soyer, a 22-year-old resident of Brooklyn who came out to protest.

“I think things have gotten worse. We don’t want any more governors, we don’t want any more politicians telling us to calm down. We’re done,” she added, as a police car stood smouldering behind her, having been put out moments earlier.

A protester stands in front of a burning police car in Brooklyn on Saturday, May 30. (Richard Hall / The Independent)

Mr Floyd died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, as the 44-year-old repeatedly told him he couldn’t breathe.

The scale of the demonstrations over Mr Floyd’s death is unmatched by anything in recent years – not since the Vietnam War and the civil rights era has anger and mobilisation been so widespread.

In Minneapolis, the city where the killing took place, in Louisville, Los Angeles, California; Atlanta, Georgia and more than 70 other cities, protesters clashed with police on Friday and Saturday evening – some 25 of which introduced curfews in an attempt to bring calm. In Louisville, Kentucky, protesters came out onto the streets in response to two police killings: Mr Floyd and that of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Louisville ER technician who was killed during a botched police raid in her apartment.

Scuffles between protesters continued into the night throughout the weekend in Brooklyn. In the working-class neighbourhood of Flatbush, there was a sense of simmering anger at the New York Police Department – a venting of frustration that could only take place in the safety of numbers.

“It’s always been a thing here. Even when I was a kid going to school late, the police would stop you, think you’re being truant, take you into the police station. Excessive shit. Just always being oppressive,” said Ms Soyer.

“This is the type of neighbourhood where people come because they are lower income and they don’t have the resources that other people don’t have. They are here to survive just like everyone else. We need equality, we need police who care about us,” Ms Soyer added.

Lines of police faced off against hundreds of protesters at an intersection in the neighbourhood. The crowd chanted: “No justice, no peace” and remained mostly peaceful despite some arrests and clashes.

In many ways, the story in Brooklyn is the same as in Minneapolis and in minority communities across the country. Research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year found that police killings account for 1.6 percent of all deaths of black men aged 20 to 24 nationwide. That rate is 250 per cent higher than for white men of the same age.

Protesters face off with police in Flatbush, Brooklyn, on Saturday, May 30. (Richard Hall / The Independent )

Minority communities in New York have long complained of racial profiling at the hands of the NYPD. In 2014, Eric Garner, an African American father of six children, was killed by police after being placed in a chokehold. He was being detained for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. His last words were strikingly similar to George Floyd’s: a video of his death showed him repeatedly telling police officers: “I can’t breathe.”

The NAACP said Mr Garner’s death showed that “for communities of colour, including women and LGBT people of colour, immigrants and low-income communities, racial profiling has been and continues to be a constant reality of life, often with tragic and deadly consequences.”

The response by the NYPD to the unrest over the last few days has only made some protesters angrier. One video released on Saturday showed a police vehicle apparently driving into a crowd of demonstrators. Elsewhere in the city, police have used pepper spray and batons to disperse crowds.

Though it rarely dominates the news as it has done in recent days, this kind of violence is all too familiar to black Americans. Many of the protesters out in Brooklyn over the weekend said they felt they had arrived at a breaking point after years of police violence without justice.

“I was supposed to get married this year. I’m afraid to have kids. I’ve been contemplating if I want to have kids because I’m afraid of what I’m gonna bring them into. Living in this world where you don’t feel safe to raise another generation, it’s a problem,” said Diamond Washington, a 26-year-old Brooklyn resident.

More immediately, Ms Washington said the police officers involved in Mr Floyd’s killing must be held accountable. Currently, only Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Mr Floyd’s neck, is facing charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter.

“For people to say the cops didn’t mean it. It was intentional. We want second degree or first-degree murder, and we want all four of them to be arrested,” she said of the other officers involved in the arrest.

“I went to Staten Island, and now I’m here in Brooklyn. If I have to go to each one of the protests all over New York city I’m gonna do it.”

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