Shut Down Penn Station

Last night I attended a powerful #BlackLivesMatter action organized by the Shut It Down NYC crew and their allies, who have been holding space for public discourse in Grand Central every night since the Grand Jury decision in Eric Garner’s case, and occasionally taking the streets & marching through other transit hubs and businesses.

Last night’s action was called Shut Down Penn Station, and that is exactly what it was, at first.

We met nearby and took the streets on our way to Penn:

Much like Shut It Down’s other actions, we then flooded through the catacombs of Penn Station, causing minor disruptions to raise awareness about a very major issue:

However, the “Shut Down Penn Station” action pretty quickly left Penn Station and took the streets again:

At this point, the decision-making seemed to grow organic as we decided where to head next.

Our numbers were relatively small to take on the threat of aggressive NYC traffic, but we were emboldened by the high energy of many friends seeing each other for the first time after a long, harsh winter, and the liberating thrill of pushing back against constant oppression.

Before I fully realized what was happening, we had locked arms and stretched our banner across the exit from the Lincoln tunnel, shutting down all vehicular traffic from New Jersey to New York City:

I felt the same exhilaration I did when we took the FDR in November – I couldn’t believe this was happening in NYC.

While small groups of activist have been able to shut down major arterials in other cities and towns, I never imagined that activists in NYC would have enough resolve – after years of being beat down by the NYPD – to make it happen here.

But we did, and we held the location – held back hordes of honking traffic – for a full 11 minutes, one for every time Eric Garner cried “I Cant Breathe” as Officer Pantaleo strangled him to death and other officers stood and watched.

We held our ground even as police approached…but we were all shocked to see that when they arrived, they drew and cocked shotguns on our peaceful protest without even talking to us first:

While many of us (myself included) were intimidated by these officers wantonly waving weapons at us (one cop even went so far as to loudly and dramatically cock the gun), we held our ground and refused to be moved by their demands.

We stayed until the group felt we had stayed as long as we wanted – long enough to be successful, but not too long as to break the organic flow of the action and evening.

We proceeded through the city, shutting down many more intersections, and engaging with hundreds more people in the street.

We held the intersection of 42nd St & 8th Ave for what felt like half an hour, stopping traffic in all directions:

Then we proceeded through Times Square, stopping occasionally to hold space and unfurl the banner to declare Black Lives Matter, but mostly just passing through:

We were quickly on our way south on 7th Avenue, holding traffic but moving swiftly back to Penn Station to disperse for the evening:

However, cops from the Times Square precinct (which have been more aggressive than other precincts throughout the Black Lives Matter demos) stormed the protest from behind without warning, many of them with nightsticks drawn, shoving us onto the sidewalk and attempting to break up the march (video from Cop Watch to come).

This unwarranted act of violence rightfully set off many of the demonstrators.

A situation that would have ended calm and peaceful was once again provoked by the NYPD. 

But the protesters rose above it. We reconvened and debriefed, celebrated the victories of the night, discussed things that we could have done better, and above all, shared our excitement for the coming months.

As the weather warms, this spring is going to be a beautiful time to protest in NYC.

you can stomp the fllowers

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