Dozens of congressional staffers briefly walked off of their jobs on Thursday afternoon in Washington D.C. to protest the recent, controversial grand jury decisions to not indict two white police officers involved in the separate deaths of unarmed black men Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
The walkout comes after days of protests in major cities across America over the decisions, which have sparked racial tensions.
The staffers gathered on the steps of Capitol Hill around 3:30 p.m. and raised their arms in the “Hands up, don’t shoot” gesture that has come to symbolize frustration over the two deaths that resulted from altercations with police. U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black recited a prayer, saying “We gather here today so that we can be the voice for the voiceless.”
Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland – who has urged congressional hearings on Brown and Garner’s deaths – said in a statement that “Democrats and Republicans across the country are incredibly frustrated by what happened in Ferguson, Staten Island and elsewhere.” The top Democrat on the House and Government Reform Committee added, “This protest reflects the mistrust they have in the integrity of the criminal justice system.”
A number of groups reportedly organized the event, including the Congressional Black Associates, Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus, and the African American Women on the Hill Network. They were joined by those working for the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association and the Hispanic Staff Association.
Last week, members of the Congressional Black Caucus took to the House floor and referenced the “Hands up, don’t shoot” before delivering speeches over the grand jury decisions.