‘Cops here had their gun holsters unbuttoned for quick access’
Since the St Louis grand jury delivered a verdict of non-indictment against Darren Wilson on Monday, protests have spread beyond Ferguson and across America to Seattle, LA, Minneapolis and New York. Photographer Pete Voelker was at last night's thousands-strong protests in NYC, which spread from the East Village and blocked traffic on Manhattan Bridge. He tells us why the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown means so much – not just to Ferguson, but to the whole of America.
"Making it across the bridge was pretty remarkable. I linked up in the East Village with a group on Avenue A, and we moved east on Fifth Street over to the FDR highway. We shut down the FDR, walked past the Williamsburg Bridge and through the Lower East Side and looped back. But as we got there, the cops blocked the bridge.
There was a bit of rough and tough push with the cops - a few people got pushed back with nightsticks – but relatively gently, for the most part. We stood there for about ten to fifteen minutes yelling, and eventually the cops turned away and Delancey and went over to Allan Street. We started walking South, took a right on Canal, which runs right into the bottom of Manhattan Bridge. When we got there, the cops hadn't caught up with us and we got onto Manhattan Bridge.
There were a crazy amount of cars that were stuck on the bridge. We went into head-on traffic and stopped the bridge completely. Everyone was honking and talking to the protesters from their cars. I thought that was pretty moving: that people – who knows how long they had to be up there – that they had a lot of solidarity."
"There were so many marches. They shut down tunnels on the West Side; groups made it up into Harlem; Union Square was a starting point for a bunch of marches; Times Square got stuck down. There were thousands and thousands (of people).
I saw cops packed with flex-cuffs, pulling out their nightsticks (truncheons), posturing and pulling their visors down. I think Black Friday (November 28) will be the biggest call to action yet though. The police are prepared for that, but I'm not sure how ready people are to act with aggression here. I think there's potential for sure, because people are really pissed off. Cops here had their gun holsters unbuttoned for quick access, which is intimidating."
"(The Michael Brown case) is huge in New York because there's also another indictment that people here are waiting to hear about. Eric Garner was choked to death by a cop in Staten Island (in July 2014). His name was said a lot last night, as was Travyon Martin's. His action group Black Lives Matter have a big presence within these marches. It's not just about Ferguson or Mike Brown, it's about human rights and equality.
Last night the cops let us act out the protest which was great, but I think that was purely because they're very much aware of their image and social media's role in all this. They were being very careful. I heard a cop mocking someone saying "oh you think you're cute in your black hoodie". Sometimes you feel like you have no rights and sometimes you feel like live in America and you can do whatever the fuck you want, but that's obviously not true".
I'm always very optimistic about change. I had never seen anything like last night, it was really productive, a lot of people coming together, so it makes me hope that it'll lead to change. But change would have been the indictment of Darren Wilson."