Credit: File

For nearly 20 years, I’ve been involved in the Civil Rights Movement and have organized protests around some of the most high-profile police brutality cases of the past two decades. However, I have still never seen anything like last week’s demonstrations across the country.

With protests stretching from Cambridge, Mass., to San Francisco, to Tokyo, and the massive demonstrations Saturday in New York City and Washington, D.C., I personally marched in the New York protests in a sea of almost 50,000 people. I was moved to tears by the unprecedented diversity represented among those clutching signs in memory of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and countless other unarmed civilians who’ve been killed by police.

It was not just Black people left to mourn our own as usual. We were all in it together it seemed: Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, young and old, gay and lesbian, from other countries, chanting in their own languages and families with small children. Everyone was represented—a literal snapshot of America. Standing shoulder to shoulder with so many people who gave a damn was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

And although a few bad apples tried to ruin the greatness of the day after the march ended—the NYPD announced Tuesday it was offering a $12,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of seven people suspected of attacking two lieutenants, breaking one’s nose—the protest that the masses participated in was totally peaceful. It was a near perfect example of what can be accomplished through the power of social media and coalition efforts.

But as easy as it is to get swept up in the captivating images and catchy slogans, what I know from organizing protests around the killing of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo and groom-to-(never)-be Sean Bell is that they are not enough. Marching will be for nothing if we don’t push our elected officials for true and lasting change through legislation.

Justice League NYC, of which I am a part, has come up with a list of long-overdue demands to keep New Yorkers from having to gather again and again to protest even more Black lives taken by a few bad police officers and reinforced by bad policies. These changes can serve as a model for cities and communities nationwide.

So while we’re waiting for the feds to bring civil rights charges against police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Garner, I encourage you to march and join an organization that is working to swing the pendulum in the direction of justice. Among other changes, we demand:

  1. The immediate firing of Pantaleo and all officers responsible for the death of Garner.

  2. The appointment of a special prosecutor in the state of New York to investigate and prosecute all criminal cases involving the use of force, including deadly force, by police officers.

  3. An immediate end to NYPD’s “broken windows” policing, which overwhelmingly targets Black and Brown communities with aggressive quality-of-life policing and enforcement tactics that could escalate to excessive force, as was the case of Garner.

We call on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make immediate changes to protect Black and Brown New Yorkers from police violence. Our elected leaders have the power to actually save lives. No, this is not easy. Yes, some folks with power will be upset. Yes, it’s going against the status quo. But what we have to ask ourselves is do BLACK LIVES MATTER to me, really? Or is it more important to win your next election by allowing blood to spill on our streets as long as the only lives being taken are those of Black and Brown people?

Tamika D. Mallory (@tamikadmallory) is a board member of Gather for Justice.