As New York’s #RiseUpOctober events continued on Saturday, 11 people were arrested at a rally in Washington Square Park, where hundreds gathered to call for an end to police brutality.
Family members of victims, murdered at the hands of police officers, came by bus from Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Ferguson, Missouri. and Oakland, California to join New Yorkers in protest. The weekend was organized in part by Cornel West, renowned author and professor at Union Theological Seminary.
The stage at the corner of Washington Square and Fifth Avenue stood as a place for family members of victims to speak and be heard by rally attendees. The weekend’s events included a victim-name reading in Times Square on Thursday and a resistance demonstration at the entrance of Rikers Island on Friday.
#RiseUpOctober representative Becca Bretz said the presence of these families at the protest on Saturday was necessary to inspire change.
“They’re the centers of this,” Bretz said. “The human side of this is to see how these families are affected and give them the chance to be heard. They’re not all Michael Browns.”
Brown’s death in August 2014 sparked a movement of its own, but not every victim has received the same extensive media coverage. For Latoya Howell, speaking at rallies like this one has become a coping mechanism. Her son, Justus Howell, was killed six months ago by a police officer in Zion, Illinois.
“They shot my son twice in the back,” Howell said. “All of these stories end the same.”
She ended her time on stage by telling the other families in the crowd about her transformation from feeling helpless to feeling empowered.
“This is my life now,” Howell said. “Justice for Justus.”
Throughout the rally, chants of “What side are you on?” challenged those in the crowd or passersby to make a decision. Carl Dix, a co-founder of the Stop Mass Incarceration network, demanded that no one remain neutral.
“In the face of genocide, there is no neutrality,” Dix said. “You can be on the side that recognizes this genocide and demands change, or the side that says it’s OK for this to happen.”
Other speakers encouraged action, such as the indictments and convictions of police officers; communication with elected officials; and the refusal to accept the justification of police murders.
West ended the rally with a reminder that the movement is anti-police brutality, not anti-police.
“Don’t let anyone tell you this is about hatred,” West said. “We love the people, and when you love someone you can’t stand to see them treated unjustly.”
The rally was followed by a march up Sixth Avenue to Bryant Park, where more family members shared the story of their loved ones. #RiseUpOctober representatives encouraged activists of all ages to attend regional meetings and continue the movement. More events are scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 22, which marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Tamir Rice.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 26 print edition. Email Carmen at [email protected]