Inside A Protest: Eleven Hours of Walking

The murder of George Floyd sparked public outrage across the United States. Major cities across the country have had protests against police brutality and brutality against black people, specifically.

Police Brutality is defined as “a civil rights violation where officers exercise undue or excessive force against a civilian.” This can mean harassment, injury, property damage or death.  

My journey to take part in a protest began at 11 am on June 2nd. I packed my bag with plenty of water, a sweate, and a camera on my hip and ventured out. I wore a ski mask, my face mask and a pair of goggles.

I met up with a friend of mine, Elijah Montgomery, and we made our way to City Hall Station. We stopped to eat and a woman came up to us. She was nearly in tears and said, “If they arrest you, please don’t resist. I’m saying this with experience, please don’t.”

We moved to Foley Square where we were met with hundreds of protestors and organizers. Elijah and I were given water and snacks by organizers and fellow protestors and were warned of what this protest would entail. 

The night before NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio had enacted a 8 PM curfew and many protestors feared that after 8 police would arrest us no matter what we were doing. We knew this, but persisted and gave organizers our emergency contacts, names, and a photo of us so we could be bailed out of jail if worse came to worse.

From 1 PM to 8 PM we marched through Manhattan, starting at Foley Square, heading to Washington Square park, where the crowd laid flowers for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and some speeches were given. We walked under the Queensborough up to East Harlem.

Police had attempted to break up parts of the crowd multiple times, but with around 5,000 people it was not possible. In East Harlem we knelt near the water and read the names of black men and children who were killed by police.

“They are robbing us of our f***ing youth. No more,” said one of the organizers as she finished reading the list. Looking back from the bottom of the hill, the crowd looked endless.

From there we went to Central Park and ended at Trump tower, where we were faced with cops armed in riot gear surrounding the building. We urged the cops to leave their posts, to kneel with us. It was a peaceful protest and no one could say it wasn’t. Protestors spoke to the officers, asking if they were proud, if this is what they thought being a cop was. I asked one if he was going to shoot me, a minor, when 8 PM hit. No reaction.

As the time came closer to curfew the crowd prepared for the worst, urging anyone who wasn’t prepared to leave and for others to write down numbers of free legal counsel they could use if they were arrested. Another friend of mine began to pour out antacid wash for eyes in case tear gas was thrown. 

The clock struck 8 PM and the now slightly diminished crowd left Trump Tower. Within the first few blocks police began to rush the crowd and beat the first wave of protestors. Elijah grabbed my arm and we ran alongside hundreds of others, afraid that they would begin throwing tear gas into the crowd. We had to be wary, as cops moved behind us and walk alongside us with their batons out while other cops set up barricades blocking the group. It was imperative that the crowd was close together as gaps in the group put everyone at risk.

When we made it to Times Square we realized we were being closed in. Lines of officers in front of us and behind were alarming as we listened to organizers re-read a list of black men and children who had been killed by police. As some of the protestors walked up to the officers chanting “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” the rest began to turn the corner and walk towards Bryant Park. The protesters regrouped and walked through KoreaTown. This is when it changed. 

It was now 10’o clock. There were around 500 of us and with less organizers some people began to get rowdy. Two or three men started throwing Citi Bikes up and down. The rest of the group yelled at them; they were putting every one of us in danger. We moved forward, but more people began to hit buildings and attempt to tear the wood paneling from them.

From the very beginning this was a peaceful protest and new people came to cause trouble. Cops came from behind and set up barricades, moving them forward as we walked. They were caging us in.

Ahead of us were five or six police vans and many cops. Some people knelt on the ground and put up their hands while others urged them to leave, it was after curfew and way too many people had been hurt by police in the past few days. Cops removed the barriers and we ran.

Photo Credit: Grace McNally

At this point Elijah and I had been walking for 11 hours. We were tired and, as much as we would have liked to stay, needed to get home to our families. As we walked past Bryant Park again I realized that the train entrances were barricaded. My friend and I live in Jamaica, Queens. An Uber home was $140, and the only option was an Uber helicopter. We agreed that we needed to get on the next train we saw no matter what it was but everything was closed.

We passed Union Square and once again the trains were blocked off. I asked protestors if they knew what was going on with the trains and no one had any answers. A block away from the park there were 3 police vans with more on the way. I used a loud speaker and asked the cops How they expected us to leave when we couldn’t board the trains. No answer.

As the crowd moved Elijah and I pushed to the front, block after block there were more and more cops until we made it to 8th street- NYU station. The entrance was opened and with one last look we rushed down the stairs. We were safe at 11:30 and each got home around 1:30.

When I got home I was told that my friends who were still protesting were trapped on the Manhattan Bridge. That’s why they were shutting down the trains. I was blessed to be home nestled in my blankets.

I am writing this the night after. The soles of my feet are still in pain from walking. But would I do it again? I’ll probably be out there again next week, or maybe even sooner.

When I asked Elijah if there was anything he wanted to say for my article he said this.  “No matter what color, age or background we unite against this brutality because we’re New Yorkers. And New Yorkers are their strongest when we stand together.”

These are our streets, paved with the blood sweat and tears of the people. The people run this town, no officer mayor or president will tell us otherwise.

Grace McNally

My name is Grace Mc Nally and I am a lover of art. In the future I plan to be a filmmaker, so who knows, you may one day be watching my written words on a big screen. I love taking photography (especially self portraits) and have tried throughout high school to surround myself with as much culture and art as possible.