Shortly before 2 in the afternoon on Sunday, more than a dozen people walked onto an interstate near the Capitol in Washington and formed a human chain. Eight lanes of traffic came to halt. During rush hour the next morning, protesters closed down the Fourteenth Street bridge. And then the Twelfth Street tunnel. “Shut it down for Mike Brown,” they chanted.
In the week since a grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown in August, demonstrations have occurred in more than 150 cities across the United States. In Missouri, protesters are marching 127 miles from Ferguson to Jefferson City, the state capital. Shopping malls and public-transit stations and major roadways have been shut down in several cities. On Monday at 12:01 pm—the time Brown was shot—workers and students across the country walked out of their offices and schools.
Cold rain in Washington on Tuesday night didn’t keep people away from a town-hall meeting at Busboys and Poets, where the room reserved for the event was so full that latecomers watched on a projection screen hung in the main dining room. Over more than two hours, a panel and the audience talked about harnessing the energy and anger unleashed by the non-indictment.
“This is not a protest—it is an uprising,” said Kymone Freeman, an artist and activist who’d recently visited Ferguson, by which he meant: people thousands of miles from Ferguson aren’t shutting down streets only because Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown with impunity, because cops turned a town into a battlefield, and because local officials were either incompetent or malicious; but also because similar expressions of racism surface everywhere. “Ferguson is Anyhood, USA,” said Eugene Puryear, another activist on the panel, who ran for a seat on the DC City Council in November.
In DC, the Metropolitan Police Department has long been criticized for racial discrimination; at an October city council hearing, residents told a number of illustrative stories, including one about police asking a teenager if his bike was stolen because it looked expensive, and another about officers storming a barbeque and shooting a dog after a report of marijuana use. “From day one, we’ve made it about local issues here, and the ability to take the energy of a mass movement and bring it home to make somebody here in Southeast DC want to be a part of it,” DC Ferguson organizer Salim Adofo said at the meeting. One of the reforms that the group is calling for in DC is an end to “jump-outs,” where officers in unmarked cars suddenly stop and detain people in the street.