For the third day in a row, hundreds of people took to the streets of South Florida to decry police violence — shutting down major thoroughfares, blocking traffic and chanting slogans including “No Justice No Peace” and “Hands up Don’t Shoot.”
As part of the Shut it Down rallies popping up across the nation, the peaceful protest — which swelled from 70 to over 300 - began at the corner of Northwest Second Avenue and 25th Street and weaved its way through Wynwood and Midtown Miami as art lovers flocked to the area for the final day of Art Week Miami.
“This is a moment when large amounts of people are ready to unravel over how they feel about the state of the system,” said Steve Grant, who said he was part of Anonymous Collective and wore the Guy Fawkes mask associated with the activist movement. “What better area to express freedom than the art district?”
The nearly four-hour march included stops in front of Art Miami, Biscayne Boulevard and on Interstate 195 where protestors lay in the street and locked arms in solidarity. Some came armed with spray paint cans so their message could endure after the crowd had moved on.
Artist Jay Betukay, 25, painted "Our streets" on a building at Northwest 2nd Avenue. Betukay traveled from Los Angeles to be part of the movement and Art Miami week.
"I am here in solidarity," Betukay said.
Sunday’s march followed an even larger protest in the same area Friday night, when more than 800 people shut down traffic for hours. On Saturday, dozens took to the streets of Fort Lauderdale for a protest and demonstration at the Federal Courthouse.
All three protests were peaceful. “The crowd has been peaceful and cooperative,” Miami Deputy Chief Luis Cabrera said of Sunday’s march. Police blocked east and westbound traffic on I-195, as well as Biscayne Boulevard, North Miami Avenue and NE Second Avenue, to allow protestors to march without interference.
The South Florida events are a part of a swell of protests across the country, after a New York grand jury declined to indict a New York police officer for the chokehold death of Eric Garner, and a Missouri grand jury didn’t indict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown. Miami marchers also remembered local teen graffiti artist Israel “Reefa” Hernandez Llach, who died over a year ago after being Tasered by Miami Beach police.
Sunday’s march started small but gained momentum as it continued through Wynwood. Reactions ranged from bemused to supportive. Those stuck in traffic honked horns and some turned around in the middle of the street to change directions.
Wynwood business owner Jesse DeJesus stood outside of his gallery Ocean Grown Glass on Northwest Second Avenue unfazed as protesters chanted out front.
“It's business as usual,” DeJesus said.
The crowds of onlookers, snapping photos and video, at times outnumbered the protestors. For some it was yet another part of the spectacle in Wynwood.
“This is insane,” giggled one young woman, as she and several friends aimed their cell phones at the protestors on Northwest Second Avenue.
But many were supportive of the movement.
“I’m glad they’re doing this,” said Michelle Badal, 25, a dancer who had come out to enjoy Art Week. “People are getting killed and if they don’t have a voice hopefully we can be the voice. That [protest] to me is as much art as what’s being displayed.”
For Kristen Millender the protest was a teaching experience for her 5-year-old daughter Nia.
“I want her to grow up knowing she has a voice and can make a difference,” said Millender as she held her little girls hand and walked down North Miami.
Sunday’s march was sparked by a single young woman, Angelika Soto, 21, who’d created a flyer and Facebook page calling for a protest, which was picked up the Miami group Dream Defenders and other activists.
“I really am surprised,” said Soto, watching 300 people marching down an off-ramp from I-195. “I’m just glad people are able to spread information and respond so quickly.”
Marcher Patrick DeCarlo, 29, said that response was typical of a new generation of protestors. “This really goes with the decentralized organization of the millennial generation,” said DeCarlo. “It’s a different idea of democracy and leadership than the one before us.”
But the event also harked back to an earlier era of civil rights protests. The group marched down North Miami Avenue in lines of four, singing Ella’s Song, a 1978 civil rights anthem. “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”