A Puerto Rican Account of the Ferguson Decision and Day-After Protests

by Andre Lee Muñiz | November 28, 2014 7:47 pm

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We at La Respuesta magazine believe in and practice solidarity. You can find us side-by-side at events and demonstrations with our brothers and sisters facing oppression and actively engaged in people’s resistance.

My role as NYC Regional Editor of LaRes encourages me to fulfill our pledge to solidarity. Nevertheless, I was personally motivated by the grand jury decision in Ferguson, MissourI to join the day-after demonstrations taking place in my city and across the U.S.


The author helping facilitate a youth circle dialogue at El Puente on the Ferguson decision

The Grand Jury Decision on TV

When I saw the decision made by the grand jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of 18-year old Michael Brown, minutes after getting home from work, my reaction was admittedly of surprise. Not because I wholeheartedly believed in the capacity of the legal system – I didn’t – but because I thought it was clear enough that Officer Wilson had used excessive force and murdered an un-armed Mike Brown.

Of course, considering the long chain of injustices produced by the systemic discrimination that exists within the U.S., the decision is no surprise. As I watched the TV, suddenly the broadcast changed to a live message from President Obama. As he talked about justice, I could not help but begin to get distracted by the outline of his figure. Immediately I thought about the nearly 4 million people living in Puerto Rico. Here on the screen was the man they cannot vote for, but who, along with Congress for over 116 years now, controls the entire structure of Puerto Rico.

Also, as friends of La Respuesta have noted on Twitter, Puerto Ricans have also experienced their share of police violence in the U.S., with a number of cases where the officer was similarly not indicted.

@RespuestaMedia good he has the blood of many Ricans on his hands : Anibal Carrasquillo, Frankie Arzuaga, Anthony Rosario, Anthony Baez etc

— Maegan la Mala Ortiz (@mamitamala) November 25, 2014

After the President’s message, the news returned to coverage of Ferguson. Not too long after, I began seeing coverage of actions taking place in New York City. A mass of people walking through the streets of Times Square in nonviolent protest, it was a rare sight. I already knew there would be day-after demonstrations, and so everything within me worked to inspire my own participation in these actions.

The Day-After Demonstrations

With cities across the nation taking part in protest, NYC had a number of contingents focused at various locations. The one I took part in gathered just outside Union Square Park and marched all the way to Fulton Street and Nostrand Avenue in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn.


Protestors in the streets of Loisaida

The route of the march first took us through the streets of Greenwich Village towards the busy FDR Drive. Once there, people began jumping the barricade onto the highway, blocking off an entire lane of traffic. Though a few demonstrators began moving back, claiming that police were gathering up the highway waiting to arrest people, the great majority stayed together and continued until reaching the Lower East Side.

By this moment, the first high point of the march for me had occurred. The cops unaware of the route of the march, we suddenly made our way through a large public housing project, making me feel a special sense of satisfaction as a public housing resident myself. Often times we say it is the people in NYCHA and low-income housing/neighborhoods in general that rarely and need to see this type of protest in their community, and so this was a welcome change. As we went through the projects, dozens of residents watched and/or cheered us on from their windows, others actually deciding to join us.


Marching through public housing

This was soon followed by the first challenge to the protest when a heavy police presence prevented our entrance onto the Williamsburg Bridge as we stopped traffic there. Uncertain for a few minutes as to what would happen, someone got on a bullhorn and called the mass to march on, which we did. Marching through the streets of Loisaida, passing by a NYCHA space named after Mariana Bracetti as well as a school named after Roberto Clemente, in addition to a number of Puerto Rican-inspired murals, we made our way down to Chinatown and the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge. Entering the bridge, we stopped an entire lane of traffic and slowly crossed the entire structure, with some cars honking us on in support, and the drivers of others actually stepping outside to cheer us on.


At the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge

Once over the bridge, we continued down Flatbush Avenue Extension, making our way to the Barclays Center. It was there we staged a powerful sit-in in the middle of the intersection, holding four and a half minutes of silence, all while the cops looked on helplessly. Moving forward together, we continued to march through Downtown Brooklyn, eventually making our way to Fulton Street. Passing through the neighborhood of storefronts, cheered on by people mainly of Black Caribbean descent, we came to a stop at the intersection of Fulton and Nostrand in the middle of Bed-Stuy.

Bringing the march to a close, after taking over the streets, highways, and bridges of NYC, we gathered to hear people speak through the people’s mic/bullhorn. The last person to speak recited the words of Assata Shakur, asking us to repeat, ‘it is our duty to fight for freedom, it is our duty to win… we have nothing to lose but our chains.’

Revolutionary Change is Needed

Much of the protestors being young people thoroughly distrusting of ‘the system’ and committed to radical social change, when an organizer called through the bullhorn for the abolition of the police and the development of community control, the mass erupted in applause. Such a revolutionary vision is not beyond our reach, as far away into the future such a possibility may seem. For a more short-term solution, an economic boycott of Black Friday was also called for. In general, we were called to continue our protest in our communities and organize our people to affect the change we want to see.

This is not the end, but it was an incredible addition to the movement for justice that is growing throughout the United States. It was my honor to take part in it, passing through neighborhoods much like my own, and people who look like those in my community. Let us continue to educate and organize our communities to assert our human rights through word and deed. Let us dare to struggle. Let us dare to win.

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