Washington, DC — Hundreds rallied in the Chinatown district on New Year’s Eve in protest of police killings of Black women and men over the past year. Protesters briefly shut down intersections as they walked along the 14th and U Street corridors. They ended at the African-American Civil War Memorial on U Street.
The rally was organized by Black Lives Matter DMV, Stop Police Terror Project-DC, Black Youth Project 100 and several other groups.
Organizers demanded changes to the justice system which permit police to walk away from shootings, often without any charges being filed by prosecutors. Activists focused on several recent high-profile cases where police have killed Blacks under questionable circumstances. Organizers highlighted the cases of Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland and called on more citizens to get involved to force change.
Earlier this week, a Grand Jury in Cleveland declined to bring charges against City police officers responsible for shooting Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old child holding a toy gun on a playground. A video showed police shot the boy within two seconds of arriving on the scene.
Eugene Puryear, an organizer with Stop Police Terror Project-DC, said of prosecutors, “The system is set up in a way where they work with these police every day, and they’re supposed to turn around and prosecute them when they know that the police will hold it against them. It won’t work.” Puryear said the prosecutor in the Tamir case “essentially tanked the case from the beginning” and thus avoided indicting him.
“Go look up involuntary manslaughter in Ohio and tell me that wouldn’t stick,” he said. Puryear believes prosecutors don’t want to refer police for murder charges because doing so would “name names as is what happens in trials.”
In another higher-profile case, a Grand Jury in Houston declined to charge police officers and jail officials in the death of Sandra Bland, 28, who was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change, but wound up dead three days later in her jail cell.
April Goggins, an organizer with Black Lives Matter DMV (District-Maryland-Virginia), said that just because the year is over, the work for change is not done. “We can talk about different ways to dismantle the system of cops and prosecutors investigating themselves and finding themselves not guilty.”
Still, Goggins remains hopeful about the New Year. “I hope more folks get plugged into the movement. Things are gonna change in 2016. We’ve learned a lot this year,” she said.
Beverly Smith, mother of Alphonzo “Zo” Smith, a youth slain in DC by Special Police demanded justice for her son and the countless others killed by police. She spoke to protesters, encouraging them to keep working towards change.
“As long as I have breath in my body I will continue to fight for justice for my son and every other Black person that has been murdered by police officers and special police officers.”
An independent report by The Guardian reported police killed 1,134 people in 2015. The Guardian count showed Black men between the age of 15-34 were five times more likely to be killed by police than white men of the same age and composed 15% of those slain.