No one can breathe: The view from the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y., as protests roil the nation

Civilian protesters in Brooklyn have not been named in this article to protect their safety.

“It seems very obvious that black and brown people are being killed for no reason,” said one protester in Brooklyn, N.Y., wearing a shirt that read “Powered by the black men before me.”

 “When does it stop?”

In cities across the U.S. on Saturday, chants and shouts — and breaking glass and sirens and gunshots — filled downtown streets in a fifth night of protest over the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis after he was handcuffed and pinned down by a police officer. Marchers also shouted the name of Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was fatally shot while sleeping in her home in Louisville, Ky. 

“It’s not only about George Floyd,” said one protester in Brooklyn. “It’s about Breonna Taylor and the countless others who lost their lives because of their blackness.”

Multiple protests erupted across New York City, some turning violent. In one video circulating social media, a police van appears to drive slowly into a crowd of protesters, attempting to disperse them as they attacked another police vehicle nearby. On the video it appears that none of the protesters were run over.

In a statement late on Saturday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said police are looking into the incident. "I'm not going to blame officers who were trying to deal with an absolutely impossible situation," he said. “The folks who were converging on that police car did the wrong thing to begin with, and they created an untenable situation.”

In Fort Greene, a gentrified, mixed-race neighborhood near the Barclays Center arena, a police van was set ablaze as nearby protesters watched. 

The coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately affected African-Americans, was on the minds of the protesters — virtually all of whom, in Brooklyn at least, were wearing masks, although crowded together and shouting, conditions that are conducive to spreading the infection. But to many, that just added to their feelings of anger and helplessness. “To see one of our own killed still in a f***ing pandemic, I mean, I don’t know how else you would feel,” one protester told Yahoo News. “That’s why we’re here today,” a friend added. “We’re here to represent the frustration and the anger toward situations just like this that have been overlooked for years.”

Another demonstrator, whose mask read “I can’t breathe,” said: “We need to be treated just as fairly as anybody else. We shouldn’t be murdered in the streets in the middle of a pandemic, let alone every day.”

Cynthia Turnquest, founder of Tha Brown Urban Mother Partnership, spoke to a large group of protesters about the importance of turning out in the 2020 election. “You better make sure that you vote because there are communities where voting do matter,” Turnquest said. “So until you start making sure that individuals count, until you make sure that black lives matter, black lives won’t motherf***ing matter.”

Protesters gather in Brooklyn, NY

In Indianapolis, one person was killed and at least two were shot during a second night of protests. 

In Reno, Nev., Nashville, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., the National Guard were deployed to combat the protests. A number of cities announced curfews, although they were only sporadically enforced.

Despite some instances of violence, many were encouraged by the number of people turning out and supporting the cause. “I think we’re in a time where the pandemic allows a lot of people who wouldn’t usually be out here to be out here,” a Brooklyn protester said. “We’re going to keep momentum up.” She added, hopefully: “There’s going to be actual change this time.”

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