Marx21 members and friends are part of the ongoing rebellion against the police murder of Black man George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. Read our latest reports below from Portland, New York, and San Jose, and see here for reports from last weekend’s protests.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Gordon B • Tuesday, June 2
Protest at Stonewall calling for justice for two Black transgender people recently murdered: Tony McDade and Nina Pop
Protests against police racism and murder continue every day in all the five boroughs of New York City, despite the coronavirus pandemic and the Mayor’s attempts to impose martial law in the form of an 8pm curfew. One of today’s protests was held, fittingly, near the historic Stonewall Inn, where angry queers fought back against police harassment and brutality in 1969. On the front of the Stonewall Inn hung a banner declaring “Pride is a Riot! #BLM.” This protest was held to draw attention to and lift up the names of two Black transgender people recently murdered: Tony McDade, a trans man killed by police in Tallahassee, Florida last week, and Nina Pop, a trans woman killed in St. Louis, Missouri earlier in May. The call for the protest came from the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, which assists queer and trans immigrants coming out of immigration prison, and Decrim NY, a coalition of groups and individuals fighting the criminalization of sex work (which disproportionately affects trans women of color).
I had last been among crowds here in June 2019 to set off on another march: the Queer Liberation March—the grassroots, deeply political and long-sought alternative to the corporate-dominated (and police-filled) Heritage of Pride parade. Tonight’s protest and march was of course a far more somber occasion, but the crowd that gathered was similarly queer and multiracial, but on the whole on the younger side. Many older activists, fearing the serious risks of COVID, have had to stay home for their safety, depriving the protests of the depth of experience like QLM had from veteran ACT UP members, among others. But this was an uncompromising, conscientious, and caring crowd, almost entirely masked. People passed out bottled water, snacks, and hand sanitizer. Medics provided masks and band-aids. Same-gender couples held hands without any hesitation.
Notable signs held up by young Black women read “There’s no revolution without Black trans folks” and (quoting rapper Freddie Gibbs’ nod to Gil Scott-Heron) “My execution might be televised.” One person held a giant religious icon-style placard with a painting of Roxana Hernandez, a transgender woman who fled Honduras for the US, only to die of medical neglect in an ICE prison. The crowd—probably numbering in the thousands—chanted the names of Tony McDade and Nina Pop and decried police racism and brutality, erupting in cheers and noisemaking. At one point someone started the crowd chanting “Lock Donald up,” but aside from that, the focus remained entirely on the police and those they have murdered. There were a tiny handful of people sporting signs for Refuse Fascism or the Party for Socialism and Liberation, or handing out political pamphlets, but these were the exception. This wasn’t a gathering of the “usual suspects” we so often see (and often, love) at protests, but a real cross-section of the city, again, largely young, simply committed to ending racism and police violence.
We began to march through the streets of the Village, past the historic Julius Bar (where the infamous “sip-in” for gay rights was held in 1966), up Seventh Avenue — against traffic, down Greenwich Avenue, up 8th Avenue, and across heavily commercial 14th Street, where stores were still being boarded up with plywood as we passed by. Graffiti (seemingly from the previous night) read “Destitute the police” (never heard that as a verb, but the meaning was clear), “I can’t breathe” in Russian, “Sandra” [Bland], “FTP” and “Gay Pwr.” People held signs reading “America wants peace but was founded on violence” and “Stop Killing Black People—Defund Police.” Doctors and nurses marched in their scrubs; nurses held signs that said “We fought COVID. Now we’re fighting police brutality” and “Nurses for BLM.” One person held a witty placard of musical notation with the pitches “A-C-A-B” marked fortississimo and crescendo.
At protests this last week, I have been struck by how it feels to have crowds of righteous, angry, and loving people filling the streets of a city that for months has seen its public space emptied out by the pandemic. I said to a friend at the protest, “we are more scared of the police than we are of COVID”—even though the virus has killed more than 20,000 New Yorkers, a disproportionate number of whom were Black and Brown. The irony of the city turning to martial law to quell protests against intentional death at the hands of police, while failing to close down the city early enough to prevent mass death from COVID-19, is clear. As we turned south onto Broadway, the chant “fuck your curfew” rose up from the crowd. The Mayor has escalated the police state in response to our pain at the state’s own brutality. While two million New Yorkers are going hungry, the city seems to be more preoccupied with preventing looting than honestly working to end the epidemic of police violence.
We went across 12th Street and down Fourth Avenue, where the crowd roared as an MTA bus driver honked in solidarity. As we passed the fire station on Lafayette Street in SoHo, one Black man asked the crowd to stop and take a knee, seemingly to get a response from the firefighters inside, but none came out. Closer to Canal Street, the same man knelt down in front of a fire truck, and a crowd gathered. The white firefighter in the truck eventually was persuaded to exit the truck and take a knee with the crowd, garnering cheers, but it was unclear whether this was an honest gesture of solidarity or just a photo-op.
As the crowd crossed Canal Street, headed towards Foley Square, I decided I would have to leave and head home, but no doubt as we speak, brave people are still downtown disobeying the curfew and calling for sincere and effective response by our government to shut down police brutality. In the “city that never sleeps,” we are now being kept awake not by world-class culture and nightlife, but by helicopters droning in the sky.
While there were only a handful of police seen on our entire route up to when I left, as I biked home I saw caravans of NYPD vehicles, and a cluster of DEA agents in bulletproof vests massed behind barricades outside the precinct on Mott Street. What the police state’s next moves will be are still unknown to us, but it is clear New Yorkers will continue to fill the streets to fight for Black lives and stand in solidarity with all the other protests happening across this country, until change is made. I have faith in the many New Yorkers among whom I marched today. If these folks are what the revolution looks like, then we will see a better world.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Jose Hernandez • Monday, June 1
When we headed to the city, we were convinced we would be attending just another protest. Little did we know that Black Lives Matter would succeed in organizing such a powerful and inspiring protest.
The omnipresence of police did not deter thousands of people from attending and enthusiastically joining the organizers. Their speeches were pure and unfiltered. It was quite impossible not to feel the pain in their voices. They had no mics, no speakers. But the crowd was very responsive to their demands, which could be easily summarized with this lament “I’m tired” that the crowd spontaneously transformed into “We’re tired.”
Next to us, excited, a young Black yelled: “Let’s march!” Minutes later, the Black Lives Matter team led our way to 42nd street.
As protesters took 42nd street, car and bus drivers were honking and clapping their hands to cheer us on. As we marched down in front of Grand Central Station, we noticed that the doors were shut. The system is definitely nervous and watching us from above: a helicopter was hovering very close to the Chrysler building. The crowd turned right on Lexington Avenue and headed south. As we looked down the avenue, we saw thousands of protesters ahead of us; the riot police were tailgating us. The streets were empty and suddenly that classic yet absent chant took a very concrete meaning: “Whose streets? Our streets!” NYPD was present and absent at the same time. In a city where unauthorized protests need to take the sidewalk, here we were occupying its main thoroughfares.
Walking down Lexington Avenue, we struggled to recognize the city. The usual impatience, the hustle and bustle of New York City was suspended. The car drivers stuck in streets were honking in solidarity. On 29th street and Lexington, we saw journalists filming a young man who was revving his bike engine while holding his right fist high up just like Tommie Smith and John Carlos back in 1968. Several blocks down, another one did the same: a revving engine, a Black Power salute.
On 23rd street we turned right, heading west. Cars coming from that end of the city kept honking. On the balconies, many neighbors were clapping. We felt a rush of joy when we noticed an old lady relentlessly banging her pot to let us know that here in Manhattan “we’re tired (too)’.
More protesters joined as we marched, so we had grown far beyond the initial 2,000 by the time we hit Union Square. We noticed a black guy on his bicycle who warned a policeman that “there [was] a guy with a weapon in the white SUV”. It was a white guy in his 40s with the typical white supremacist look. He was arrested by uniformed and plainclothes police. Yes, there were lots of undercovers. But it didn’t really matter. It was clear that the system was on the defensive and the police were just holding off.
The crowd headed towards Broadway. But because of the curfew, we headed home. On our way back, we noticed that most stores were boarding up like a hurricane was about to hit the city.
When leaving Midtown, a Black guy was insulting someone we couldn’t yet see. The term “pig” gave us an idea. Indeed, there was an NYPD wagon a few meters away from him. At least six activists were being taken to the precinct.
It was around 6:00pm and the evening was definitely promising more action on the ground.
Bob Bacon & Sean Cummings • Sunday, May 31
10,000 Rise Up and Demand an End to Police Violence
On Sunday night many of us here in Portland gathered to honor George Floyd’s passing and send a clear signal to those in power: this cannot continue. It was the third night in which we’ve done so, repeatedly defying a city-wide curfew called by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and the Portland Police Department—a curfew meant to defend property and business-as-usual at the expense of human life and dignity.
But like so many others across our nation, Portlanders are fed up with business-as-usual—fed up with the murder, violence, and humiliation suffered at the hands of those who claim to protect and serve us, fed up with bearing the brunt of the growing economic disaster, and fed up with a system that underfunds pandemic relief while it showers the racist police with seemingly endless resources.
On Sunday night, Portland responded. We came together as a city, marched through the parks and the streets, defied the curfew directly in front of one of the city’s largest police stations, and marched downtown, 10,000 strong, to make a stand in front of the so-called Justice Center, a hub of the war this city wages against the poor and oppressed; which works to ensure those who desire business-as-usual can continue to line their pockets, as workers of all colors and creeds are emiserated and kept in check by the city’s largest and best-funded street gang—the PPD.
The march was young, angry, and diverse in a way that went beyond the tired stereotype of the white, middle class anarchist—a trope wheeled out many times in the past to divide the movement. Families, people with disabilities, and those on their first ever political action joined the march.
We met Chris and Laura, who grew up in Minneapolis and were marching with their young daughter, “It means a lot that our daughter sees this…we support the need for justice and we need to change the way the police act and interact with people. The first step is demilitarize the police.”
Other protestors were appalled at the continuing violence of the police. “This excessive violence from the police needs to stop,” said local resident Christopher.
There were signs calling for defunding of the police, an idea that is gaining traction throughout the protest movements sweeping the country. Meanwhile, Mayor Wheeler has pledged to increase funding to the police, despite cutting community services during his term in office.
Wheeler has also extended the curfew through Tuesday, and both he and USs Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams have requested the National Guard deploy in Portland to quell further protests, echoing President Trump’s call to further militarize the reaction to protestors. It seems unlikely that the thousands of people on the streets of Portland last night are going to accept this or swallow the platitudes from the Governor, Mayor, and City Council.
Last night was a demonstration in the truest sense of the word: the multitudes of us who stand against oppression demonstrated our power—a power that stems from our solidarity and unity in action—and the police were forced to relinquish their power, if only temporarily. But all those who attended last night learned an important lesson: in small numbers they crush us, but when we stand together our solidarity overcomes the oppression of the state.
This was reflected in the mood and character of the march—while there were no doubt the usual suspects such as black-blockers, old leftists, and conciliatory liberals, who at one point made a show of kneeling together with a police representative for a well-timed photo-op (while the riot cops stood behind glaring at the crowd and patting their batons), much of the crowd came from every corner of Portland, in anger and determination, and when the liberals began to chant at the police, “Join with us!” it was effortless to drown out that chant with our own: “Quit your jobs! Quit your jobs!”
That is the ultimatum that Portland gave, and while the reemergence of a militant working class in the United States is still in its infancy, and we are still grasping to connect our various struggles and pin them to the capitalist system, last night was an undeniable step forward—one that deepened the bonds of the people of this city and has no doubt emboldened them to take the next step in the struggle for racial justice, together.
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA
Nicholas Soo • Sunday, May 31
There were around 450 protestors in front of the San Jose City Hall. Facing us were around 150 police with batons, gear, and guns that shoot rubber bullets. The people knelt and stood against the row of police, holding up signs and chanting. Because the previous day in San Jose the police escalated the violence, and there was a woman who drove a SUV into the crowd, it felt tense, but overall peaceful.
I joined a comrade and the local mutual aid organization to distribute water, snacks, and facial masks to the protestors.
Only on one occasion did we hear the police shoot rubber bullets into the crowd, but nobody was reported to be hit. The tactics did agitate some people, while it caused some others to turn away.
At about 3:30pm, the City of San Jose announced a curfew at 8:30pm, which angered people.