On Thursday, black congressional staffers, along with other staffers of color, staged a walkout to show their solidarity with the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two black men who died at the hands of police.
America, something has happened here, and you should take note: The movement against police abuse has made it to the Capitol steps.
Dozens of staffers, by some estimates over 100, stood together outside on the Capitol steps with a “hands up, don’t shoot” pose to protest the grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers involved in the killing of Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Garner in Staten Island, New York City. In its power and symbolism, that iconic hand gesture takes us back to the black power salute made by John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City — but with a new flavor to draw attention to an old problem.
That congressional staffers have taken this bold move is a clear sign that the protests that started in Ferguson have grown into a full-fledged national and international movement, the likes of which we have not seen since the Iraq War protests, if not since the 1960s and 1970s. But what is happening here is starting to feel more like a twenty-first century civil rights movement.
The Congressional Black Associates, Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus, the Brooke-Revels Society, the Congressional African Staff Association, and the African American Women on the Hill Network were joined by the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association and the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association for the event, according to The Daily Beast. This latest action is but one of numerous protests, walkouts, marches and die-ins that have taken place across the country and around the world.
For example, middle- and high-school students in cities such as Denver, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area walked out of class in recent days. Meanwhile, up to 1,000 students protested at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, as did students at over 7o medical schools across the nation, from USC and Northwestern, to Howard and Harvard. And in Philadelphia, students at institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania Law School — my alma mater — and Temple University staged die-ins.
In 2012, 250-300 staffers gathered on the steps of the Capitol following the death of Trayvon Martin, a black teen who was shot to death in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman — a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman — while holding an iced tea and a bag of Skittles.
America is witnessing large-scale demonstrations in support of the proposition that black lives matter, with broad and diverse multiracial participation. Among the thousands of New Yorkers who shut down the city in the wake of the Eric Garner decision were leading rabbis who were arrested while singing the Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish prayer in honor of the deceased.
“’Whoever destroys a single soul is considered to have destroyed an entire world,’ the Talmud teaches us. And, the human being was created alone, lest one person say ‘my father was greater than your father,’” said T’ruah, an organization of human rights-oriented rabbis, in a petition calling for police accountability. “Each of our lives matters. Black lives matter.”
And yet, Palestinians living thousands of miles away in the Occupied Territories have also shown their solidarity with protesters in Ferguson. Black lives matter, this is true, but oppression and racial injustice are universal concepts. And all of us should know that if some of us are not free, then none of us really are. That is why demonstrators in Hong Kong are saying “hands up, don’t shoot,” and activists in Tokyo, Japan, and Melbourne, Australia, have taken to the streets in memory of Michael Brown.
The displays of unity such as the Capitol Hill protest are heartening and a sign that this is not merely a fad or some chic, trendy fashion statement here. As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the brutal police attack on peaceful civil rights demonstrators on the Edmund Pettus Bridge — also known as Bloody Sunday — we have much to think about, and the same battles to fight once again.
America is in this for the long haul.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove