The coincidence of the Occupy protests with the growing national movement of outrage against the failure of Sanford, Florida police to arrest the killer of Trayvon Martin has called into question police authority and undermined the NYPD push to criminalize dissent. Despite violent nightly skirmishes from Monday onwards, the NYPD was not able to oust the occupiers from Union Square, and on Wednesday evening “hundreds poured into the square at 6 p.m. for a rally for Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager hunted down and killed for being black. Trayvon’s aggrieved parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, spoke at the rally, dubbed The Million Hoodie March, which drew 1,000 hoodie-wearing supporters who sported the same apparel that Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman, found ‘suspicious’ as he stalked the 17-year-old through a gated Sanford, Florida, community. … Around 7:30 p.m., the rally became a march, commanding 6th Avenue and easily overwhelming the considerable police presence.”
While police massed at the square in the aftermath of the demonstration, they remained on the defensive: “500 cops, accompanied by dozens of paddy wagons and arrest vehicles, surrounded the park – there was so much manpower that they stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they ringed the square – and pushed the protesters back onto the public sidewalk area in what was the largest show of police force since the November 15 raid on Liberty Square. But the show of force was thankfully just that, and though white shirts patrolled the crowd and provoked the occupiers, the paddy wagons and NYPD arrest bus remained empty. “
Last Saturday, March 25, hundreds more occupiers marched to protest the violent arrests the previous week and to demand the resignation of the NYC police commissioner, Ray Kelly. According to the Guardian: “Organisers framed Saturday’s action as a critique of an array of NYPD tactics that tend to disproportionately target low-income communities and people of colour. Protesters repeatedly pointed to the department’s widespread use of street-level stop and frisks and the surveillance of Muslim communities as examples of failed NYPD policy.” An example of this practice was the violent arrest of Mesiah Burciaga-Hameed, a 16-year-old activist from Oakland, who briefly blocked the path of a police scooter. According to The Occupied Wall Street Journal: “Despite her change of heart, she was quickly snatched from the sidewalk by officers who dragged her, hysterically crying, from her friends. … Burciaga-Hameed’s arrest was consistent with the random yet systematic targeting of women, teenagers and men of color for arrest, a pattern noted by many who were following the four-hour march on Twitter.”
The continued assertions of popular sovereignty in Occupy’s rhetoric and direct actions have been revitalized by the demands for justice in the Trayvon Martin case. The ouster of the Sanford police chief, following a motion of no confidence by the city council, showed a potent demonstration of the public’s power to push back for accountability from law enforcement, a movement that continues unabated. The protests against arbitrary police actions have spread through the country like the Occupy movement in its initial days. In Chicago, hundreds of people rallied in the Loop and Daley Plaza to show support for Trayvon Martin’s family. “It’s not just about this protest,” Jazmin Barnett-Birdsong told the Morris Daily Herald. “It’s about all the protests nationwide. It’s about unity and solidarity. We as a country, we think justice should prevail.”
The mass nature of the movement means that hundreds of incidents where police have racially profiled African-Americans and Latinos have accumulated to the point where communities no longer believe the police are serving justice. Rallies were planned for Pittsburgh; San Francisco; Houston; Atlanta; Indianapolis; Baltimore; Philadelphia; Detroit; Memphis, Tennessee; Iowa City, Denver, and Sanford itself on Monday where 500 people crowded into the Sanford City Commission. Outside the meeting, several thousand people carried signs, rallied and marched in Martin’s support. “We’re not asking for an eye for an eye, we’re asking for justice, justice, justice,” said Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father. More than 2.2 million people have added their signatures to an online petition demanding an arrest in the case. Several Miami Heat players took the basketball floor on Saturday with messages such as “RIP Trayvon Martin” and “We want justice” scrawled on their sneakers, after posting photos of themselves wearing black hoodies on Twitter.
When Martin Luther King famously said, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” he was speaking about civil rights in the 60s. But the words encompass our 2012 reality.