Hundreds of people, including union members, students, socialists, immigrants and others, gathered in New York City’s Union Square on May 1, International Workers Day, calling for a higher minimum wage of $15 an hour, justice for unarmed people killed by police and an end to deportation and detention of undocumented immigrants.
This year, May Day protesters in New York brought calls for an end to systemic racism and support for police accountability for the killing of unarmed civilians, especially people of color, to the forefront of the annual labor march and rally, with “Black Lives Matter” and the names of people killed by police written on signs, and chants calling for justice for the victims of police brutality or promises to “shut it down,” a mantra of the Black Lives Matter movement.
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Earlier on May 1, prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced that six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man whose spine was severed while in police custody, would be brought up on criminal charges, ranging from assault to second-degree murder.
“To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace,'” Mosby said during a press conference, following a week of street protests, property damage, arrests and the imposition of a city curfew in Baltimore. “To the youth of this city, I will seek justice on your behalf.” The six officers charged in relation to Gray’s death are currently out on bail.
In New York City, on April 25, David Felix, a 24-year-old suspected of robbery, was killed by a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer when the officer and another detective went to Felix’s residence, a home for people with mental illness, and a chase and scuffle ensued.
During the rally in Union Square, activists shared Felix’s story, citing that some media outlets had said little about the man in the week following his death, beyond that he had mental health issues. David Felix’s name has been reported incorrectly as Felix David by a number of publications, a May Day speaker told the crowd.
Although May Day’s roots can be traced back to the US labor movement’s struggles for the eight-hour day, higher wages and safer working conditions, it’s not an officially recognized holiday in the United States. Traditionally a celebration for workers’ and immigrants’ rights, May Day’s connection to struggles against police violence is also very much a part of its history.
In 1886, following the police killing of two workers at a Chicago labor rally, workers fought with police in Haymarket Square: “Someone threw a bomb at the police, killing at least one officer. Another seven policemen were killed during the ensuing riot, and police gunfire killed at least four protesters and injured many others.”
Union activists, like Charles Helms, recognize this part of labor history. “I want to let policemen know that there’s more to a union than a blue wall of silence,” said Helms, 68, an Occupy Wall Street veteran from New Jersey, who said officers must hold each other accountable and break the code of silence often upheld by police unions. “The police have to police their own.”
Around 5 pm, protesters began marching along a police barricaded route from Union Square, winding through Chinatown to Foley Square in lower Manhattan, the endpoint bordered by the New York City Supreme Court building, a few blocks from 1 Police Plaza, the NYPD’s headquarters. By 8 pm, after youth organizers helped conclude the rally, a smaller group of protesters continued to march, back to Union Square, with police officers walking alongside them, to keep marchers on the sidewalk and out of the street.
In Union Square, on Friday afternoon, Marvin Knight, 72, of Brooklyn, said he was at a similar protest in the 1960s, after a Black child was killed by a White NYPD officer and people rioted in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
“Fifty years later, it’s still going on,” Knight told Truthout.
Back then 90 percent of the protesters were Black, he said, but the majority of the May Day 2015 protesters were White. “Blacks got so many problems, they don’t have time to protest,” Knight said. “Every day is a protest.”