Latest #blacklivesmatter protest shuts down downtown

Latest #blacklivesmatter protest shuts down downtown
Brook Hines

"The drunks up in Tallahassee are drinking whisky and making up laws. They don't even seem to know that at one time whisky was illegal!" – Miguel Adams, Speak-Up-Florida: for the Movement to End the New Jim Crow co-founder

While we're not terribly fond of repeating ourselves in consecutive weeks in this winter wonderland called Happytown, by dint of the snowballing controversy surrounding police brutality against communities of color, we feel compelled to keep this drumbeat going. Why? Because on Dec. 10, more than 200 people were able to shut down huge swaths of downtown in an organized (and, at times, startling) effort to seek justice, an act that at least doubled the impact of the previous week's protest on the same issue in both size and scope.

168: Number of unarmed people of color who have been killed by authorities since 1999 that were honored by name at a downtown Orlando vigil Dec. 10

You might not have been initially able to feel the strains of righteous indignation when the gathering began outside the Florida A&M Law School on Hughey Avenue at 5 p.m. – at that point, it was all sign-up sheets, privately donated "#blacklivesmatter" T-shirts, general organizational conviviality and some perfunctory police monitoring from across the street. But once the giant light-up letters spelling "End the New Jim Crow" were rolled out, the energy changed to a palpably, and understandably (in our humble opinion), dramatic scene. Things are escalating, and they are doing so organically, Organize Now director Stephanie Porta told us. Other groups have leaned in from around the state and now it's a full-on coalition gathered to convene on broader racial lines. Demands are becoming more focused: body-cams for cops, less discriminatory laws, less racial profiling. A movement is (re-)forming.

"Kids don't even know about Jim Crow," said Speak-Up-Florida co-founder Miguel Adams. "They don't even teach it in school anymore."

8: Number of officer-involved shootings in 2014 in Orlando, which includes two fatalities, according to the Orlando Police Department. There were four fatalities in 2013.

By now you're aware of the tragedies that have led to this new civil rights activism: from Trayvon Martin to Marissa Alexander to Tamir Rice to Mike Brown to Eric Garner, all involving perceived unfair treatment of blacks by authorities. Well, it doesn't get better. On Dec. 8, just two days before this previously scheduled march (which was meant to coincide with the United Nations' Human Rights Day), Orange County Sgt. Robert McCarthy shot three bullets into a stolen car, critically wounding 28-year-old Cedric Bartee. Witnesses claim that Bartee was holding his hands up in submission; "hands up" has become a rallying call in this movement. So has the phrase "I can't breathe," the words uttered by Garner – a man allegedly caught selling loose cigarettes in New York – as he was held in a chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17. Pantaleo is free. Garner, who was effectively asphyxiated for 11 minutes, is dead. Brown, who was just 18 when he was shot by Ferguson, Missouri, officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, lay dead on the ground for four hours while authorities got their stories straight. More on the significance of those numbers in a minute.

"Police get to walk away on paid leave with their lives, while our kids' blood is drying on the street," one speaker put it rather poignantly.

What we're going to do here is ask you to lean in close to whatever paper product or digital device you may be reading this on and hear us break character: It's very emotional to hear people speaking publicly about brutality they've suffered; it's very hard to fathom what others go through daily; it's incredibly sad to see the names of 168 unarmed people of color killed by authorities since 1999; it really hurts to hear the words "I CAN'T BREATHE" screamed through a megaphone; we cried, substantially.

But what happened next was so much better than a Christmas parade and so much more life-affirming than any holiday concert. The crowd, which we swear grew to about 300 by our headcount, closed down Orange and Hughey avenues on its path to holding a die-in outside the Amway Center. There, the Orlando Magic would be playing, cough, the Washington Wizards. All the way there – and especially once we arrived at the Amway – the police were polite, patrons of bars were documenting with their phones, supporters honked and only one person we noticed said something stupid: "Why don't you get a job?"

"I've got one, but thanks," Porta smiled.

31.17: Number of black people per million shot by police nationwide between 2010 and 2012, according to a study by ProPublica. For white Americans, that number is 1.47 per million.

And as the die-in (in which people lay still on the ground as television reporters walked through the mock carnage) came to its close – 11.5 minutes for the time it took Garner to die, four more minutes to symbolize the four hours Brown's body remained in the street after he was dead – and the assembled crowd of onlookers dispersed, one protester took to the microphone and read out the words of Garner, the closing words we've all now had burned into our horror heads. The words that have to make us change.

"I can't breathe."

Related: Gallery of photos from the #blacklives matter die-in downtown


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