Mic Check: The Black Lives Matter Movement in New York City
Shouting “mic check” mobilizes protestors into a game of repeat-after-me, uniting the crowd and spreading the speaker’s comments and instructions without amplification.
On November 24, 2014, a Grand Jury absolved a white police officer of killing black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Two weeks later, a second Grand Jury in New York City’s Staten Island cleared white police officers accused of killing an unarmed black man named Eric Garner.
Following these decisions, the local protests that erupted in Ferguson and on Staten Island spread to cities and towns across the country. People took to the streets to protest against both the Grand Jury decisions themselves, as well as police brutality and racism in general. From these protests the Black Lives Matter movement was born.
The largest of these protests garnered huge amounts of media coverage. But there were also many smaller protests that received little to no media coverage. Following the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter as a starting point, I began to track and document both the large and small protests in New York City.
Protesters continued to take to the streets of New York for a long litany of names: Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Botham Jean, Stephon Clark, and Eric Logan to name just a few. The protests also included events to remember those from incidents before 2014, such as Eleanor Bumpers, Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, and Amadou Diallo.
But as the years went by, the sizes of the crowds at these protests dwindled and the media coverage of them had all but disappeared.
Then with the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in 2020, caught in graphic video that spread like wildfire around the world, people were reenergized. Protests exploded across New York, the country, and the world. The deaths of Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake followed, and again mass crowds took to the street to call for justice and to change the system that allows these deaths to occur.
In April of 2021, Derek Chauvin was convicted for murder in the death of George Floyd, a rarity in that few police officers are punished for killing black and brown Americans. When the verdict was announced, people took to the streets to celebrate Chauvin's conviction. Then just a few weeks later protestors in New York City marched solemnly to mark the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's murder.
And now once again, the movement seems to be in a state of flux, and the streets are again quiet, at least for the moment. But I, and others, understand that the fight for Black Lives is not over. So I continue to pack my cameras and film and remain ready to continue to try and capture the first draft of the history of whatever the next chapter of movement leads to.