On Saturday December 13th there were protests throughout the United States concerning police brutality against the African-American community. While the march in Washington DC arguably received the most press, it was the NYC march that made the strongest impression in terms of crowd size and duration. If both the official march and non-official excursions are combined, it lasted from 2 PM ET until after midnight, with a crowd of up to 60,000 in attendance. It started in Washington Square Park and moved uptown to Herald Square, snaked back downtown to One Police Plaza, then crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and passed through the Fulton Mall to Barclays Center. A smaller contingent* moved onward through Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Brownsville and finally reached the 75th Precinct in East New York where the cop who gunned down Akai Gurley works. Sections of the march also branched out to Harlem, as well as over the Queensboro Bridge.
I didn’t march myself, mainly for physical reasons (I have a lingering ankle injury, and can’t outrun a cop). But I’m 100% in agreement with the protestors and support them fully. I live near where Eric Garner was killed, and remember often seeing him smiling and greeting people at St. George Terminal. It’s sickening to know he’ll never be seen alive again, that the only way most people will remember him is by the video of his murder. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer responsible for Garner’s death, has a history of violent & racist tendencies; while it’s unfair to tar all cops with the same brush, he’s far from the only one in the NYPD who thinks and acts like this.
It may seem surprising, then, that there’s been very little actual protest in Staten Island. We did have a 7-minute shutdown of the SI Highway, and Eric Garner’s daughter has been organizing die-ins at the spot where he died, but for the most part…folks aren’t showing up. Why?
That question has multiple answers. Start with the usual components – lack of time, money or awareness of anything outside one’s personal bubble – as well as the frank reality that Staten Island is a highly racially divided community. Add in the looming “revitalization” of the North Shore, including the shady EB-5 money pumped in for the New York
Eyesore Wheel. When North Shore residents are demonized as “thugs” and “criminals”, it’s easier for other Staten Islanders to look away as they get displaced for outlet malls and tourist traps.
Mind you, the much-maligned South Shore is going through heavy changes as well. Things still aren’t 100% after Sandy, and the Ethnic White Heroin Epidemic™ rages on. Staten Island is still the most insular of the Five Boroughs, but the national attention being paid to police brutality – Eric Garner’s case in particular – shines a cold, bright light on how things are, and perhaps how things need to change.
*An interesting thing about the Brooklyn section of the march: every neighborhood they passed through either used to be communities of color that were hypergentrified and reconfigured for affluent whites, or are currently communities of color in direct danger of being displaced by that same hypergentrification.