On December 6, a photo was posted on Twitter by Dëneze Nakehk’o. The picture showed more than a dozen people bundled up in the cold, holding a sign with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. The caption read, “-31 outside but #yzf in solidarity with #ferguson”. As Bucky Turco from the website Animal New York would discover, the people lived 3,000 miles north of New York City in an area in Canada known as the Northwest Territories. The photo was organized as a way to show solidarity with protestors in Ferguson and New York City.
It has become one of many such statements from around the world.
The aftermath of the killing of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson by a white police officer has been filled with a constant drumbeat of protests in Ferguson and cities across the nation. People have let out a collective cry of frustration at the lethal force used disproportionately against the black and brown in America. By the time the grand jury announced their decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson, it had been more than 100 days since Brown had been killed and several other police shootings of unarmed black men had made the national news.
Less than a week later, a New York grand jury failed to indict the officer who was filmed holding 42-year-old Eric Garner in an illegal chokehold as he died on the sidewalk the previous July. Garner kept saying “I can’t breathe” as several officers held him down. The phrase would be his last words, which he would say eleven times before he took his last breath.
At that moment, the protests became a movement.
The outrage has left the city limits of Ferguson and spread from the boroughs of New York. Protestors have literally stopped traffic on bridges and freeways, begging people to stop and listen. “Die-ins” were added to the arsenal of actions, while “I can’t breathe” became part of the protestor lexicon across the globe.
Many understood firsthand what is at stake.
In 2011, a young black man named Mark Duggan was shot and killed by police in London. The killing, the police mishandling of the case, and the subsequent four days of riots that spread across England make the events in Ferguson seem familiar. This week, protestors gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in London holding signs saying “black lives matter” to remember Duggan, as well as voice support for Michael Brown’s family.
“We know what it feels like to know that a member of your family has been murdered in cold blood,” Duggan’s mother Carole told the crowd. “That is why we stand in solidarity with the community in Ferguson, who are very, very brave people.”
Protests organized in Toronto highlighted their own problems with racial profiling and racism experienced by blacks from the Toronto police while they expressed support for the Brown family. In Calgary, more than 2,000 people showed up to protest outside the U.S. Embassy to point out that “Anyone, regardless of their color or race, doesn’t have the right to kill another human being.”
Still, there is much that remains a uniquely American problem.
In downtown Anchorage, Alaska, 120 protestors peacefully marched with their hands up amid chants of “I can’t breathe.” Organized by the local NAACP Youth Council, the event was to express solidarity for others across the nation. For them, it wasn’t about confronting police, but to remember the message of Martin Luther King Jr. that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Many admitted that the relationship with their local police was positive, but walked in support of relatives and friends who had suffered at the hands of police in other parts of the country.
Local ombudsman Darrel Hess, who attended the rally, echoed the sentiment of the residents. “It’s a good thing we’re not New York or Missouri,” Hess said. “But it’s also bad in a way, because people perceive there are no issues with racism here, and people get complacent.”
The nation is being reminded of this whenever possible.
Players from the St. Louis Rams walked out of the tunnel with their hands up, a gesture that is now synonymous with the protests, at the start of their game that happened shortly after the grand jury’s decision. NBA players have been doing their warm-ups wearing black t-shirts with “I can’t breathe” written on the front. Celebrities are holding their hands up as photographers snap their picture on the red carpet.
The message has also reached the nation’s capitol.
On December 11, the steps of the U.S. Capitol was where 200 Congressional aides, staffers, and some lawmakers, stood with their hands up. Organized by black, Hispanic, and Asian-American congressional aide associations, the protest was a planned walkout during a busy day in the midst of lawmakers trying to pass a spending bill. They wanted the nation to know that they, too, were frustrated and are seeking change.
America seems to have reached a tipping point of collective outrage. Organizers from Ferguson have even met with the president. Lawmakers in Washington have asked for Congressional hearings, while even House Speaker John Boehner says he has questions he would like answered. The Department of Justice has said they are continuing their investigation into the Michael Brown killing, as well as taking a new look at the Eric Garner case.
Meanwhile, the movement marches on from Ferguson to New York City, from Alaska to London, from Austin to Toronto, from Tokyo to Melbourne, towards lasting change.