Prince William and Duchess Kate Middleton are used to drawing massive crowds everywhere they go, but probably not like what was waiting for them Monday outside Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
With Britain’s royal family in New York as the honored guests for Monday night’s NBA game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers, hundreds of demonstrators took advantage of the extra limelight to protest a string a police shootings that have roiled communities across the country.
Just minutes before tip-off, scores of demonstrators staged a “die-in” outside the sports arena, laying on the ground in silent protest. But it wasn’t just those outside Barclays Center who joined calls for police reform in the days since a grand jury decided last Wednesday not to indict the white New York police officer who put an unarmed black man named Eric Garner in an apparent chokehold, which eventually led to Garner’s death.Players inside the stadium – including Cleveland Cavaliers star Lebron James – joined in solidarity with the protesters by wearing shirts printed with Garner’s final words, “I can’t breathe.”
Carmen Perez was the first to break the news to crowd outside the arena that the demonstrations earned some star endorsements on the court inside. “The players wore our ‘I can’t breathe’ shirts in solidarity tonight,” she yelled through a microphone as the crowd erupted in cheers. Perez’s group, the New York Justice League, were behind the demonstrations Monday in Brooklyn, and the group had arranged for the players to wear the organization’s message.
“We’re here for a reason,” Perez told msnbc. “We’re here because we want justice, and we want it now.”
An array of groups had joined the night’s protests, which were staged to capture attention not just from the American media, but also internationally with the royal family in town.
“We want to show the international community that black and brown lives matter not just here in America,” said Cherrell Brown. “We wanted to make sure the royal family saw that when they came on their nice trip to America.”
Protests over the Garner decision – and also the recent grand jury decision not to indict the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown over the summer – have spread around the country as a national conversation about disparate policing of communities of color has come to the fore.
Earlier in the day, members of the New York City Council staged a “die-in” of their own on the steps of City Hall. The local officials then moved protests into the streets, blocking intersections and stalling traffic in lower Manhattan.
When asked about the council’s demonstration Monday afternoon, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was arrested last year in an act of civil disobedience, said he would not stand in the way of council members exercising their First Amendment rights.
“It’s the right to protest. It’s a part of our values as Americans,” de Blasio said during a press conference Monday. “Last year, what was happening with the potential closure of a hospital was worth having an arrest for as a part of civil disobedience. I certainly respect any fellow elected officials who come to that conclusion as well.”