Across the country yesterday, people turned out for #MillionsMarch, part of the ongoing movement to protest police brutality, a broken justice system, and the deaths of people of color including Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. Marches took place in Oakland, Washington, DC, Detroit, and other cities across the globe. The amount of concerned citizens that partook in the demonstrations sent a clear message: It’s time for change.
Organizers were happy to report that during the New York march, there were no arrests made. In some places along the route, numbers swelled as the trail of protesters stretched to over a mile long. Occasionally, the Millions March crossed paths with holiday shoppers, but also with revelers from the annual day-drinking festival known as SantaCon.
Imagine being faced with this decision on a Saturday afternoon: Do you put on a Santa hat and go on a bar crawl, or join the thousands of protesters congregating at Washington Square to protest for racial equality and police reform? According to the numbers — and if this was a prizefight — Millions March NYC soundly beat SantaCon in the first round.
With an estimated 50,000 attendees (including actors from Netflix’s hit series Orange Is the New Black), the Millions March NYC demonstrated how effective social media could be in organizing thousands of people to congregate in just a week’s notice. More importantly, it addressed the urgency that NYC residents felt in expressing their outrage at the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island not to indict two police officers in the murders of two unarmed African-American men this summer.
While the chants of “I can’t breathe” acknowledged the last words that 43-year-old Eric Garner uttered before his death, students, social justice activists, representatives from local community organizations, and more importantly, concerned citizens, marched for hours on Saturday afternoon until they pointedly passed One Police Plaza and ended nearby on 10th and Broadway.
The senseless deaths of 18 year-old Michael Brown, Garner, Rice, and countless other black men and women represent a systemic, insidious, and historically prevalent problem in racial profiling by law enforcement. Saturday’s march also acknowledged victims targeted because of their sexuality, religious faith, and socioeconomic backgrounds whose deaths by the hands of the police have not warranted public demonstrations like we have seen this year. The New York march was led by the families of unarmed black men killed by police officers, including Ramarley Graham and Sean Bell.
A quick online search for statistics on instances of police brutality that have led to deaths is sufficient evidence as to why so many people put aside their holiday shopping to hit the Manhattan streets. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal focused on data from 105 of America’s largest police agencies, showed that there were 550 police killings between 2007 and 2012 that were not recorded in the national tally. In addition, there were more than 30 murder cases that were not attributed to a specific police agency. Because of this, there's no way to know how many people — regardless of their cultural background or socioeconomic status — are killed by the police each year.
SantaCon started earlier in the morning, around 10 a.m., with a charity fundraiser in midtown Manhattan. It soon devolved into a boozy bacchanal that travelled throughout the downtown core. The annual event initially started in San Francisco in 1994 and was inspired by a Swedish activist group who that created what was once a joyful march through city streets. In 1998, a New Yorker by way of San Francisco led 200 people though Manhattan streets, stopping at several bars along the way.
Since that time, SantaCon has not only grown to approximately 30,000 people in New York, but has spread to cities around the globe. Over the years, the Manhattan march spread to Brooklyn, and with the expansion came complaints, as the festive revelry got out of control and violence ensued as when participants couldn’t hold their liquor. Neighborhood associations complained about the messes and melees the event was bringing to their streets (this year a city councilmember from Bushwick banned SantaCon from the neighborhood) and servers complained that the sense of privilege revelers demanded from bars and restaurants they descended upon was unbearable. On the official SantaCon site, the FAQ is telling: It encourages revelers NOT to fight with security, scare children, and most importantly, to monitor their alcohol intake.
Now to be fair, any public gathering that has exponentially morphed over time within an confined urban area is bound to have growing pains. Residential streets strain with overcrowding and people’s tolerance withers as the masses grow larger and stronger. In SantaCon’s defense, the libidinal effects of alcohol are bound to encourage the worst of humankind. For New Yorkers, the question was clear: Do they want a weekend to celebrate a festive season that signifies tidings and joy, or do they want to demand change that will lead to the betterment of all citizens?
The pair of marches represented what people can create when they care about making the world a fair and equitable one for everyone, and what happens when they don’t. Millions March NYC represented the best of what citizens can be when working as a collective; inspiring people to look beyond their individual lives and understand that, despite these trying times, everyone deserves human dignity and equal treatment under the law. SantaCon displayed the worst facets of what lies within us, when we think only about searching for temporary relief through superficial means.
On Saturday people in cities across the globe put their holiday shopping on hold for a day and came together to demand social change, which is a gift on its own. So while the competing marches boxed for the public’s attention, it was a fair and justifiable fight. And, in the end, we will all win.
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