WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) — Thousands of protesters marched across the country Saturday — past the White House in the nation’s capital, along iconic Fifth Avenue in New York and in the middle of Nashville’s honky-tonk district — to call attention to the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police and urge lawmakers to take action.
Chanting “I can’t breathe!” ”Hands up, don’t shoot!” and waving signs reading “Black lives matter!” the demonstrators also staged “die-ins” as they lay down across intersections, and in one city briefly blocked an onramp to an Interstate.
“My husband was a quiet man, but he’s making a lot of noise right now,” said Washington protest marcher Esaw Garner, widow of Eric Garner, 43, who died in July after being put in a chokehold by New York City police during an arrest for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
“His voice will be heard. I have five children in this world and we are fighting not just for him but for everybody’s future, for everybody’s past, for everybody’s present, and we need to make it strong.”
Organizers had predicted 5,000 people at the Washington march, but the crowd appeared to far outnumber that. They later said they believed as many as 25,000 had shown up. It was not possible to verify the numbers; Washington police do not release crowd estimates.
Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, called the demonstrations a “history-making moment.”
“It’s just so overwhelming to see all who have come to stand with us today,” she said. “I mean, look at the masses. Black, white, all races, all religions. … We need to stand like this at all times.”
Joining the Garners in Washington were speakers from the family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old killed in Ohio as he played with a pellet gun in a park, and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who helped organize the marches.
“Members of Congress, beware we’re serious …,” Sharpton said. “When you get a ring-ding on Christmas, it might not be Santa; it may be Rev. Al coming to your house.”
Several speakers asked the crowd to chant, “I can’t breathe.” Garner, 43, had gasped those words before his death. Some protesters also wore those words on shirts. Other speakers called for a chant of “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and protesters also waved signs reading “Black Lives Matter!”
“This is a riot and an uprising that’s going to bring justice to this country for black and brown people everywhere!” a Human Rights Campaign speaker told the crowd.
One speaker, who identified herself as a protestor named NeNe, urged non-black “allies” to cede the movement to black people.
“If you with us, get on the sidelines, get on the back lines,” NeNe said. “This our movement. Let the Afro-Negroes get on the front line.”
Just before the crowd marched to the Capitol, the rallying was interrupted briefly by more than a dozen protesters who took the stage with a bullhorn. They announced that they were from the St. Louis area and demanded to speak.
“This movement was started by the young people,” said Johnetta Elzie, who ultimately was allowed by rally organizers to speak.
Organizers called the interruption unnecessarily divisive. But some in the Missouri group, mostly in their 20s, said they were disappointed and found the rally staid and ineffective.
“I thought there was going to be actions, not a show. This is a show,” Elzie said.
Protests — some violent — have occurred around the nation since grand juries last month declined to indict the officers involved in the deaths of Brown and Garner. Before the crowd started marching, Sharpton directed, “Don’t let no provocateurs get you out of line. … We are not here to play big shot. We are here to win.”
Then, blocks of tightly packed people moved through the city.
Among the large crowds on New York’s Fifth Avenue were family members of people killed by New York City police going back decades.
— Breaking News (@NewsOnTheMin) December 13, 2014
Donna Carter, 54, marched with her boyfriend, whose teenage son was shot and killed by police in the 1990s while carrying a toy gun.
“It’s good to see people of all colors here to say enough is enough,” said Carter, who’s black. “I’m a parent and every child that’s killed feels like my child.”
Others were there to show their outrage, including Rich Alexandro, 47, who carried a handmade sign with dozens of names of victims of police killings in which officers were never charged.
“It just seems like the cops are Teflon,” Alexandro said. “There’s no justice.”
Politicians and others have talked about the need for better police training, body cameras and changes in the grand jury process to restore faith in the legal system.
Dave Urbanski contributed to this story.
This story has been updated.
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