Credit: Rameen Aminzadeh photo

“Saying out loud, ‘hands up, don’t shoot,’ resonated with me the most.” Brooklyn native Angel Elcock, 23, expressed the power she felt at the first protest that allowed her to stand up for something larger than herself. “While saying it, I envisioned so many young Black men getting shot, pleading for their lives.” Elcock was one of the 10,000 people who joined The Gathering For Justice and Justice League NYC in the streets for their ‘March for Stolen Lives & Looted Dreams’ rally on Saturday June 6th. The two nonprofit organizations are dedicated to ending racial inequalities in the justice system. The march began at 10am in Harlem, NY at the Frederick Douglas statue near 110th Street. Chants from protesters echoed throughout the streets of Upper Manhattan included, “broken system, shut it down; police brutality, shut it down.”

Nana Akua, a first generation born American whose family is from Ghana, said marching with her community was one of the best feelings. “It was empowering. People cheered along the sides and clapped for everyone. There was so much solidarity.”

Catherine De La Cruz, an Afro-Latina protester, described the march as peaceful, loving and brimming with determination. “It was wonderful interacting with others who feel just as strongly. We were all in it together.” The crowd marched down Central Park West and throughout downtown Manhattan chanting the names of the Black men and women murdered by police violence.

“We continue to breathe life into them and into ourselves when we remember their names,” said creator and writer, Aisha Jordan. She described repeating the names of the Black lives stolen as painful. “It stings but we have to bring our ancestors and those who have fallen with us at all times.”

“Black culture sets the trends that the U.S. and the entire world benefit from it,” said Cheryl Pieterse. She and her husband were on their way to another protest when they spotted the crowd passing by and joined. Pieterse mentioned a stand-out moment for her during the march. “Only members of the Black community raised their hands. This included my husband. The remainder of people in the crowd, including myself, began clapping as a way to show respect and celebration.” The march concluded in Washington Square Park where the ‘Takeback’ rally began at 2pm.

“There is a sense of pain knowing that my brothers and sisters have been murdered to police violence,” singer and songwriter Keris Love’ stated. Love’, who performed at the rally, described feeling amazing while performing. “Knowing that I was trusted to create this song for the movement along with [other artists] gives me a feeling of pride.”

The rally, where 30,000 New Yorkers attended, was led by The Gathering For Justice’s president and CEO Carmen Perez-Jordan. Perez-Jordan shared the importance of motherhood and having her toddler son by her side. “I want to share this experience with him because his life matters to me and he is who I now fight for.” She expressed how rallies along with effective policies build power and solidarity in the community. “The work that has happened over the years allows for people to see the organizations who are working in the community, the elected that say they’re going to make change, the families impacted by police violence, speakers who are inspirational and listen to artists committed to the issue.”

The crowd of protesters were unbothered by the rain, especially during Activist Tamika D. Mallory’s powerful speech. She emphasized the demands of the march and rally which involve Mayor de Blasio signing an anti-chokehold bill and the immediate resignation of Commissioner Shea. “The bottom line is, we demand justice for our people, or these young people are going to tear your damn streets apart.”

“The rally was electric,” said Aisha Jordan. The magnitude of this movement is forcing the police department system to renovate. According to a statement from The Gathering For Justice, Mayor de Blasio has pledged to meet their demand to defund the NYPD. The organization demand answers for all officers and their supervisors to be held accountable for the brutality unleashed onto protesters. Other demands include shifting money out of the police department and into youth programs. The mayor has pledged to reform the police secrecy law section 50-a, which allows police departments to refuse to disclose the “personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion.” This enables citizens from discovering if police officers have a history of complaints for excessive force or misconduct.

Comptroller Scott Stringer is calling on the mayor to cut $1.1 billion from the NYPD budget over the next four years. Stringer is hopeful his funding cuts will decrease the NYPD headcount and invest funds in services that increase community health and safety, while reducing the need for police interactions. Nana Akua voiced her disinterest in white Americans who continue to benefit from the oppression and mistreatment of Black Americans. “I don’t care how they feel about Black people and this movement,” she expressed. “They’ve sat idly by and watched us die unnecessarily for years.”

However, there are protesters who have a message for the United States about Black people. “Black is beautiful and we matter,” said Catherine De La Cruz.

Keris Love’ added, “I want America to know they aren’t America without Black people.”