By Nick Pinto in Gothamist
Protesters briefly shut down traffic on both the Queensboro Bridge and the Queens Midtown Tunnel [see update below] yesterday evening to mark the 90th anniversary of Malcolm X’s birth, unfurling a “Black Lives Matter” banner and burning an American flag.
The group of roughly a dozen protesters first unfurled the banner across the off-ramp for the Queensboro Bridge shortly after 7 p.m., blocking traffic for 15 minutes before scattering. They reconvened shortly afterwards at the entrance to the Queens Midtown tunnel, again blocking traffic for exactly 15 minutes before dispersing again. At both locations, the protesters burned an American flag.
— Keegan Stephan (@KeeganNYC) May 20, 2015
An organizer of the event, Arminta Jeffryes, 21, said the action was part of a nationwide series of events meant to celebrate the life and work of Malcolm X, who, unlike Martin Luther King, is not honored by an official holiday. Jeffryes said the militant message of Malcolm X has strong resonance with contemporary activists. “My generation is more about what Malcolm X believed in,” she said. “You can’t fight violence with nonviolence. Sometimes you’ve got to fight back the way they’re fighting back at us. I do not condone violence at all, but sometimes it just has to happen.”
— Ash J (@AshAgony) May 19, 2015
Commuters stalled on the bridge and in the tunnel weren’t exactly thrilled by the delay. “They were angry they did not get home,” Jeffryes said. “Our whole message is you’re angry that you can’t get home, but Akai Gurley can’t ever go home. We’re angry because our kids can’t go home at all.”
The flag burning seemed to particularly disturb some passersby. “One veteran walked up and said, ‘That’s offensive to me, I spent 12 years protecting the flag,'” said Keegan Stephan, who took part in the protest.
Jeffryes said the group was comfortable with the flag burning. “The American flag does not represent black people,” she said. “My great grandfather served in the military in World War II. They laid him to rest with a flag. To me, that feels disrespectful, because we’re not free. We can’t walk down our steps, we cant play in our park, we can’t sleep on our grandmother’s couch, without being shot.”
After leaving the Queens Midtown tunnel, most of the group departed. A few who remained were approached by police, the first contact the group had with law enforcement last night. “They basically told us you shouldn’t burn flags, and you’ve got to have a permit to block traffic,” Stephan said. “They didn’t get a lot of argument. Nobody was about trying to further antagonize the police. They let us go on our way.”
We are the children of the children of the civil rights movement. 50 years from Selma and we are still fighting for respect as Citizens of this country. Have we made progress? Yes but what does it matter if every 21 hours a young Black man or woman or child is murdered by police. Where is the progress if we are judged, convicted, executed where we stand. Malcolm X speaks to my generation, we embrace his philosophy. We honor him for always speaking truth to power.