New Yorkers reclaimed Dr Martin Luther King Jr.’s message on Monday at the biggest demonstration for police reform since city officials called for a detente between protesters and police.
Thousands of peaceful protesters gathered at noon at 110th Street and Lenox Avenue, and marched four miles down Lexington Avenue to the United Nations.
“We’re at a pivotal point in history, we need thousands, millions of people to rise up and fight back against the system that says black and Latino lives don’t matter,” said Adrienne Luendo, 24, from the Bronx.
“If you see ‘Selma,’ you see people were fearless in the face of serious danger, and they were willing to put their bodies on the line to change the world. It’s really scary to know that were happening then are happening now, and we have to carry his legacy and take it further,” Luendo said.
“Now police brutality and racism is under more scrutiny in the public eye,” said Ruben Mendez, 24, an independent activist from New Jersey. “In some ways, it does feel like another 1960s cycle.”
Marchers carried signs of men and women of color who have been killed by police. At times, chants said NYPD officers were “racist” and like the “KKK.” As the crowd passed by the DeWitt Clinton Houses on 110th Street and Lexington, a man yelled from the windows above “f--- the police.”
“The faith community is concerned about the chants that at are anti-police,” said Rev. Peter Heltzel, 44, an assistant pastor at Park Avenue Christian Church and director of the Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary. “We’re grateful for police officers keeping our streets safe … but we’re fighting for transparency and accountability within the NYPD, so if they get or hurt someone, they are disciplined.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio called on New Yorkers to volunteer on MLK Day, and joined Rev. Al Sharpton at the National Action Network’s House of Justice for a policy forum. “If you’re saying something vicious and vile to a police officer, you are not making change, you are not moving us forward. You are holding us back,” de Blasio said, adding New Yorkers want respect from the NYPD, but should also show them respect.