A protestor holds up a sign that reads, “This is Not a TV Show. The Living Black is The Walking Dead.” (Photo By: Nicole Williams)
A new generation of activists emerge around the nation in response to killings of unarmed Black men
“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” a woman yelled as she held up a sign that read “This is not a TV show!! The Living Black is The Walking Dead.” It was the first voice that echoed against buildings along Hollywood Boulevard as hundreds of people wearing all black gathered to march down the iconic boulevard on December 6, 2014. The “Hollywood Blackout” march became one of many non-violent gatherings around the world in response to the killings of unarmed Black men by police and the non-indictments in Ferguson, Missouri in the police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown and the chokehold murder of Eric Garner by NYPD.
At the front of the march, a clear view of the crowd could be seen. Amongst the protestors were also celebrities like Tyrese Gibson who marched with his daughter. Other strong voices could be heard and some marchers could be seen with tears in their eyes. In that moment, as voices filled the space in solidarity and cars honked in support on the opposite lane, it felt as if one was standing in what was becoming a movement — a new movement.
LAPD monitored the march and blocked off lanes so that marchers could walk without risk of being injured by traffic. Some thanked officers for their collaborative efforts and one officer smiled and replied, “I believe in this too.” All age groups and ethnicities joined in solidarity, but the spotlight was on the sprouting generation of 20-somethings, who seem to have picked up momentum to bring awareness to the injustices. The Hollywood Blackout march was organized through social media by Darnell Appling, a television actor who is 27 years old.
“This is a march out of respect. We’re going to do this in a classy way. We’re going to set the tone…The person standing next to you, it is your brother and your sister,” Appling said over the megaphone.
Runners supporting “Run For Justice” gather and get ready to run Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles on December 6, 2014 to raise awareness of racial injustices and police brutality in America. (Photo By: Nicole Williams)
And he’s not the only one. Run For Justice is an organization created by 28-year-old Londrelle Hall to raise awareness of racial injustice and police brutality in America. The movement began as a 550 mile run made on foot by Hall and 29-year-old Ray Mills from Atlanta, Georgia to Ferguson, Missouri to the spot where unarmed Michael Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson. The journey not only raised awareness to their cause, but also raised $10,000 for the Brown family, which has been quoted to be the most money the family has so far received.
Their journey brought them out to Los Angeles to do a run at Runyon Canyon Park, which brought out over 50 people. Some had been following their journey through social media and others were friends to the founders. The two note that they started this running movement to spread love and to also get others to recognize that they too, can take a stand.
“In our community, we seem to get complacent. I just wanted to keep the eyes on Ferguson and help the family. And I wanted to get the people to stand up…Running gives me liberation, so I decided I would run to raise awareness, run to unite people and run to get people to wake up and take action,” Hall said.
Runner, Danielle “Stoni” Clark is amongst many who feel that this is just the beginning of a much bigger movement.
“I believe it’s the first step to something way, way bigger. We need to come together in the communities first. Without unity we can’t accomplish anything. Events like these, that is exactly what it’s doing. You’re bringing people from different communities and not just Black people…all races come to events like this,” Clark said.
Other runners like friends, Candice Johnson, Brandon Claybon and Shirrelle McCray came to support Run For Justice to make a statement
“People talk about we are in a post-racial America, but I don’t believe it’s true,” Claybon began. “This is our stand. We’re letting people know that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere and you have to respect us.”
“Right now we are in history. What are you going to do? You need to get out and be active.
Are you going to be a player or are you going to sit on the sidelines?” McCray said.
When asked about what the protestors want to happen next after protesting, one runner says they want to understand policing.
“We need to have a serious conversation about police, their roles, their strategies and the way they’re supposed to interact with the public. I think it’s a blurred line right now that we need to define if what the officers have done was justified. We want to know why it’s justified,” McCray said.
The protesting hasn’t stopped in Los Angeles, with locations like Leimert Park a particular place for continuing protests. Run For Justice is continuing to travel to other parts of the United States like New York and then Atlanta, Georgia. Other places around the world have also joined in solidarity, such as colleges and universities and even images spread of people from other countries, such as Palestine, holding up signs for Ferguson. Los Angeles held a “Millions March” on December 27, 2014 where several thousands of protesters marched against police brutality. Contrasting from the Hollywood Blackout march in early December 2014, the new movement seems to have gained momentum in numbers.
Though some could see or refer to the nationwide protests as a new civil rights movement, civil rights activists and freedom rider Rev. James Lawson says more has to be done before that can be true.
Montgomery, Alabama: Carrying the American flag, civil rights marchers arrive at their goal, the State Capitol, climaxing their 5-day long Selma to Montgomery March. (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)
“When you talk about the Civil Rights Movement and specifically about the nonviolent direct action movement of which I was a major part, you have to recognize that specific movement has not yet been examined and studied carefully,” said Lawson.
Reverend James Lawson with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Courtesy of SMU Perkins School of Theology)
A follower and practitioner of nonviolence, Lawson was an active and influential member of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement being requested by Martin Luther King, Jr. himself. Lawson was the field secretary for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, organized the Nashville Student Movement sit-in and held workshops on nonviolent techniques and strategies. He weighed on the recent protests for justice against police brutality.
“The present protests we see going on will probably fade,” said Lawson. “The anger won’t fade but… they do not look to have in place the plans for gaining momentum or increasing the numbers of people, who are going to wake up and get involved..
“I don’t see any of that.”
Journalist and syndicated columnist, Roland Martin commented on the recent protests and whether it shows any signs of being a civil rights movement for a new generation. He says that the tools for building a new movement have always been there.
“I’ve always said that there was a need to turn these moments into a movement,” said Martin. “I said this after Jena 6, I said the exact same thing after Trayvon Martin.Jena 6, you had 350,000 people who went down to Louisiana but after it was over, it sort of dissipated. Trayvon Martin, you had action as well, you had some organizations that rose out of that but same thing, a lot of people went their own way.”
University of Southern California Gould Law School Professor Dr. Jody Armour believes the multitude of people protesting should know their end vision, so that their fight for change won’t die.
“It may be a movement where multiple people make change. We need clarity of purpose. New ideas work not old ideas. There are multiple ideas that have failed in the past that have gotten us nowhere such as the personal discrepancy problem. We have to look beyond pointing fingers saying it is an individual’s fault for the things happening,” Armour said. “Nothing of this scale has happened in my lifetime, where world wide protests are occurring. This period has a promise, but we are at a critical moment where our clear visions need great thinkers.”
For critical building, the new movement of justice for the youth in America begins with in depth evaluation of past occurrences.
Protestors, including R&B Singer/Actor Tyrese Gibson march along Hollywood Boulevard during a march on December 6, 2014. (Photo By: Nicole Williams)
“I think that you got to go beyond Mike Brown and Eric Garner because it was a build up. It was Chavis Carter in Jonesboro, Arkansas, it was Victor White III in New Iberia, Louisiana, it was John Crawford III in Dayton, Ohio, it was cases outside of South Carolina, Georgia, it was case after case, after case that people said, ‘wait a minute, this makes no sense.’
“I think all of that culminated with Mike Brown and that’s why you’re seeing this intensity. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a lot of these young leaders, who started these various groups and this is certainly a moment to turn into a movement. You see it happening, you have these spontaneous protests but I do think you have a social justice movement that is forming, that is being built, that is going to be lasting because people are simply saying, ‘enough is enough’.”
Lawson says that in order for this movement to really take hold and be as effective as the civil rights movement he was a part of, it’s going to take much more experience, vision and time.
“The so-called national voices that I see and hear have no experience in developing a national campaign,” said Lawson. “They are operating from the wrong premise.
“They should be doing the organizing, the recruitment and the kinds of strategies that build for the long term that develop, no matter how slowly, escalation of numbers because numbers are important to move any public system.
Dr. Martin Luther King (center) leads an estimated 10,00 or more civil rights marchers out on the last leg of their Selma-to-Montgomery march. Others identifiable in front row include: John Lewis, (2d from left) of SNCC; King’s aide, Reverend Ralph Abernathy (3rd from left); Dr. Ralph Bunche (5th from left, looking to side); Mrs. King (next to King); and Rev. Hosea Williams (carrying little girl, right). (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)
“Some scholars say that a good campaign is going to require about 3.7 percent of the population that’s agreed or involved. You have to reach the number that is relevant to your locality. In addition to that number of people who would get involved directly, you have to reach the public who will not go to march, sit-in but will go to the mass meetings to be informed and will be supporting the effort emotionally and with what money they can give and supporting it by talking it up.”
Lawson spoke about how planning is vital to any movement especially in reaching a larger demographic of people and that it is important remember that everyone still has lives to live.
“There are too many people, who [are] very aware but have busy lives to sustain themselves and their families,” said Lawson. “So if you want them, you have to work in such a fashion that they can give up an evening a week or a Saturday a week to work with you in the campaign.”
Lawson also made it a point that the energy for a civil rights campaign has to come from a positive place. He stated that violence, profanity and hatred have no place in an effective campaign on adversity.
“You cannot have all the rage…bad-talking and violence and so forth—women are not going to support that,” said Lawson. “Mothers and fathers are not going to want to bring their children to some of the demonstrations if you’re going to do that, they will fear for their safety.
“If you have elements that are talking anarchical [jargon] and revolutionary violence, an atmosphere where you’re afraid some people are going to throw stones, that is going to impact your capacity to grow in support and numbers.
“The folks who want to develop a movement must develop a compassionate, loving struggle that treats everybody that they can attract with dignity and respect. You have to build a struggle community that reflects the justice and the changes you want and expect to fulfill.
However, Dr. Armour believes that justice should start in educational and economic resources distribution. “All of these cases happen because of what we are taught and what we are given. When you put people at the lowest of the totem pole you reduce the number of opportunities given to African Americans,” Armour said. “Once we get that taken care of we can also enforce community policing to make sure officers are doing their jobs. We can make reforms that will reduce the grossly disproportionate arrests of African Americans.”