To someone who grew up in New York City, the NYPD will always be synonymous with Amadou Diallo. One of the first protests I ever attended was at City Hall in 2000, after the police officers who shot at Diallo 41 times were acquitted and the city erupted in anger. His killing solidified and reaffirmed a generation of New Yorkers’ understanding of who the police really were, who they served and protected, and who they did not.
People called for change, and politicians promised that the police would be reformed. Instead billions of dollars flowed into the NYPD as they racially profiled countless youth through stop and frisk, shot at Sean Bell 50 times, choked Eric Garner to death, and denied justice to the family members of Delrawn Small, Elvin Diaz, Ramarley Graham, Jayson Tirado, Mohamed Bah, Shantel Davis, Iman Morales, Kimani Gray, Alberta Spruill, and Rexford Dasrath—all men and women who have been killed by the NYPD over the past 15 years. Year after year, from New York to Missouri, police continue to kill Black and Brown people with impunity, all while serving as the most powerful apparatus of racist violence in the United States.
After the killing of George Floyd, 25 days (and counting) in New York City have been marked by hundreds of protests and marches that have spread out across so many neighborhoods it seems like they might reach every person in the city. Young people, around the same age Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown would have been if they were alive today, are leading marches with confidence and strength. Older residents and young children stand outside their stoops and windows cheering from a safe distance, thanking them for putting themselves on the line. Just a month ago, the hospitals were overflowing. So many lives were lost, and just as with police violence, the victims have been disproportionately Black and Brown.
Some of the protests are enormous and others are small, some are joyful and others mournful, some are run like campaign events organized by local politicians and others more like DIY actions scraped together by high school kids. What they all have in common is their power—the way people are feeling it, and the way people are showing it. This is a movement, not a series of protests, and within weeks it has already put politicians on the defensive, pressuring them to enact reforms that have been long overdue. And still, the movement knows that this is not enough, and it is not backing down.
Floyd’s killing is infuriatingly nothing new or different. But the outrage, activism, and protest it has inspired, the Black Lives Matter movement’s spread and influence, the calls to defund and abolish the police that are going beyond more of the same placating reforms, and the momentum of a movement that simply will not stop—all this is new. From my one small lens in this great big city, this time feels different.