Whose Streets? Our Streets!

Hena Ashraf Sep 23, 2011

I woke up today as I’m sure many of you did thinking of how I get to wake up today, and Troy Davis doesn’t. I thought about how our country kills innocent people abroad and at home. And I felt immense frustration at the recent news of how much the NYPD targets and monitors the Muslim community, as well as the CIA and FBI – all Muslims, basically any who show a sign of being religious.

I went to the Troy Davis rally that took place today at Union Square at 5pm. It was quite a large crowd for a quickly organized demonstration. There were many chants against police brutality and I kept looking around to see how many police were present. I didn’t see any at first. A black youth spoke and said something that I have been thinking a lot these last few weeks, and I wondered how many in the crowd felt the same: he asked, ‘Where are our leaders?’ Where are the Fred Hamptons or Malcolm Xs of today? We are leaderless and have been for a long time.

There were chants of ‘March! March!’ and the rally that had much emotion and energy became a march indeed. I decided to join and marched with my friends Divad and Lensay. By this time, the cops had shown up, but not many. When I realized that this was indeed a spontaneous march, with us stopping traffic, and no stupid permit, and that the police couldn’t control us, I became very enthusiastic and chanted at the top of my lungs. I directed my chants at the police. I chanted for Troy Davis, because I unfortunately realized just a few days ago what ‘We are all Troy Davis’ means. I also chanted at the police because of all of my pent up anger and frustration at how much they target and monitor our numerous and connected communities.

At 5th avenue just a few blocks north of Washington Square Park, the police had gathered themselves and blocked the street. But we kept going, and there was a very tense moment where we shouted ‘We are all Sean Bell! NYPD go to hell!’ I had never seen a march like this or anything with direct confrontation or resistance to the police. It was amazing, yet I was also a bit terrified, but still shouted. We were urged to keep walking however to avoid a physical confrontation.

We kept zigzagging our way south. It was clear there was no one in charge, and I think that made it better, and more spontaneous, and thus harder for the police to contain us. On Thompson Street, south of NYU, the police had managed again to block off the road. We stopped. Suddenly, people started running back, and so did Lensay and I. The police went into the middle of the street and we surrounded them, and I certainly saw the NYPD push people. So much so that the videographer from Democracy Now! was holding up his press card to them. I think it was at this point that a few got arrested. This was a highly tense stand-off with the NYPD and we continued our chants for Troy Davis and against police brutality.

After a few minutes we changed direction again, and finally got onto Broadway. I’m sure many of us have been on numerous marches down Broadway before. But this was different. There was no permit, no plan, no steel fences. We had the street. Marching on Broadway like that was certainly a memorable moment, and despite how tired and sweaty we were, we all kept going and chanting.

We went past City Hall and went all the way down to where the #occupywallstreet protestors were camped out. Once I saw them, I raised my fists in the air, for we had reached our spontaneous goal of joining them. I heard shouts of ‘Welcome!’ from the Wall Street protestors. The crowd was a crowd of love. Drummers played their rhythms and people started dancing.

We realized though that we weren’t actually on Wall Street, so we continued yet again, just a couple blocks away. This area had been fenced off already because of #occupywallstreet, so we walked past the George Washington statue and squeezed our way through. We were surrounded with steel fence barriers on one side and buildings on the other side, with the NYPD in front of us. After some semi-circling we left the area and went back to the #occupywallstreet crowd, that had camped out in a square.

By this time, after nearly 3 hours, it was clear this amazing march was over. I was told that a few had gotten arrested and so some people started to go over to Precinct 1 where we presumed their friends were being held. The remaining crowd started an impromptu people’s assembly of sorts. Someone would shout ‘mic check!’ in order to be heard, and would say a few words, which the crowd would repeat, and in this way the person continued until their message was heard.

By now there were dozens if not a hundred or more police, and they were on the street, watching us. Some of the people who had spoken via ‘mic check’ said we should behave ourselves with the police. I sensed many in the crowd feeling frustrated at this, and a few started shouting of how the police had shoved them around just an hour ago. I got up on one of the stands and started to shout ‘mic check’, and as I started speaking, my voice became incredibly loud and angry, which surprised me. I said that the Wall Street protestors need to be in solidarity with anti-police brutality efforts. And I said that the crowd must also be against the targeting and surveillance of the Muslim community. I said we need to connect-the-struggles.

I stepped down and listened to some of the other thoughts being shared. After a few minutes, I knew I wasn’t going to stay in the camp – and – I had to phone my Mum and my phone was dead. I left the area and as a joke to myself I asked a policeman where the train station was.

Anyway, I wrote all this to share what happened in NYC tonight. I don’t think many of us who marched had ever seen anything like it before. Personally, I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time, for some real resistance, and I’m sure a lot of us have. Who knows what will happen next, if anything does, but at least something did happen tonight, and our spark was the murder of Mr. Davis.

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