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Gainesville students ‘shut it down’ to remember Eric Garner

By Michela Martinazzi |
December 10, 2014
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Gainesville protesters shut down intersection. (FightBack!News/Michela Martinazzi)

Gainesville, FL- 350 people, mostly students, marched from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in downtown Gainesville to the intersection of University Avenue and 13th Street. In a dramatic action on Dec. 8, they marched through busy streets and then shut down the important intersection for 11 minutes in solidarity with Eric Garner.

Protesters began gathering at 4:00 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial statue near City Hall. People were asked to show up wearing black and to bring black signs. Nailah Summers, coordinator of the Civic Media Center, began the event by inspiring the crowd with a variation of an Assata Shakur quote, “We have a duty to fight. We have a duty to win. We have the duty to love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains!” The crowds repeated after her as they filed into the heavy traffic of University Avenue.

The march took up two lanes, completely blocking the cars on one side of the road, while protesters chanted, “Black lives matter!” and “If we don’t get no justice, then you don’t get no peace!” Three police cars tailed the protesters closely. Onlookers took pictures, put their fists up in solidarity and a couple even joined the march.

The protesters arrived at University and 13th, one of the busiest intersections in Gainesville, at the height of rush hour. The crowds formed a giant circle, ensuring that no cars could get past them. At the center of the circle two protesters held a silver coffin while a Dream Defender activist gave a eulogy and spoke, “You tell us to fear ISIS, and yet every time I pass the police, I hold my breath!”

Protesters stood in the intersection for 11 minutes. This symbolized the 11 times Eric Garner said, “I can’t breathe”, as NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo strangled him. At the end of the 11 minutes, everyone turned to face the cars and yelled, “What side are you on?”

Eric Brown, with Students for a Democratic Society, said “I think we're at a tipping point where people are tired of the status quo and are willing to literally put their bodies on the line to ensure that the systematic killings of Black bodies in America stops. The number of people who came out today is promising for future organizing around issues of national oppression. Ferguson is everywhere, and we have an obligation to use the air that Eric Garner can no longer inhale to fight for liberation."

Brittany King, an organizer with University of Florida Dream Defenders, spoke about future plans in Gainesville, “We want Gainesville to wake up and realize that just because it doesn’t happen in Gainesville, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening everywhere else. While people are sleeping, more people are dying. Today was a testament that Gainesville is prepared to wake up and prepared to join the movement!”

People left the intersection and gathered into an empty lot where the event ended on a high note with plans for future action and chants of “I believe that we will win!”