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Justice for Eric Garner protesters in Jacksonville disrupt mayor's holiday event

Protest spoke out against local state’s attorney for supporting killer cops
By staff |
December 6, 2014
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Jacksonville protesters stage die-in at downtown Hemming Plaza
Jacksonville protesters stage die-in at downtown Hemming Plaza demanding 'Justice for Eric Garner.' (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Jacksonville, FL - On Dec. 5, nearly 100 protesters gathered in downtown Jacksonville to demand justice for Eric Garner, the New York African American man who was choked to death by police. The protest was called in response to the decision by a New York grand jury earlier in the week to not indict the police officer who killed Garner.

Activists from Jacksonville's Black community, along with groups like the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, organized the event. The Jacksonville protest happened simultaneously with other demonstrations across the state of Florida and the entire country against racism and police brutality.

Just after sunset, people began assembling at the entrance of Hemming Plaza in downtown with homemade rally signs that read “We the people indict this racist system,” and “Justice for Eric Garner.” Some protesters placed masking tape over their mouths and wrote the words, “I can't breathe” across it, which Garner said 11 times before dying from the police officer's chokehold.

As the crowd grew larger, they broke into chants of “Justice for Eric Garner” and “Black lives matter,” which became a rallying cry for protesters after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri this summer. Like Garner's case, a majority-white grand jury declined to indict the white police officer who killed Brown in late November.

Several speakers from social justice and civil rights organizations addressed the crowd. Bobby Worthy, a member of the Jacksonville branch of the New Black Panther Party, spoke out against Florida State Attorney Angela Corey and her persecution of Black youth in north Florida. Worthy pointed out that Corey's office never charges police officers after shooting Black men, but she ruthlessly prosecuted Marissa Alexander, the 33-year old African-American mother who recently took a plea deal after defending herself from domestic abuse.

After hearing from the speakers, protesters broke into thunderous chants of “I can't breathe!” and prepared to march through the plaza. Just 30 yards away from the protest, another crowd had assembled for Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown's annual holiday tree-lighting ceremony. The protesters continued chanting as they marched through the seating aisles and around the stage of the ceremony. At one point, the volume of chanting overpowered the band.

As the protest continued, the staff for the holiday ceremony cranked the amplifier volume to high levels in order to drown out the chanting. This caused many in the audience to leave the event early. Some joined the protesters.

When the protesters arrived back at the entrance of the plaza, they held a die-in for four-and-a-half minutes, which symbolizes the four-and-a-half hours that Michael Brown's body was left in the hot noonday sun after he was killed by Ferguson police. Everyone laid down on the ground and began chanting, “Hands up, don't shoot.”

The atmosphere was energetic and lively as several speakers closed out the event.

“They kill our people every 28 hours,” said Estefania Galvis of the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition. Galvis' statement references a study by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement from 2013, which found that police or vigilantes kill a Black man every 28 hours. “The last thing I heard two weeks ago was that there was a police incident in our community and I got a text from a friend saying was someone close to us,” said Galvis at the end of the event. “I don't want anyone here to be the next victim of police killings.”

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