By Gerry Hopkin
“This is tremendous; what a strong expression of protest against police brutality. In solidarity we are asserting the belief that Black lives do matter” — said Grenadian-American recording artiste, Dionne Baize, while present as a participant of the massively attended Caribbean-Americans for Justice March and Rally, which was held on Sunday, June 14, 2020.
Writing as one of the organizers of this event, which despite less than 10 days of planning and even shorter notice, was able to galvanize and bring out tens of thousands of West Indians living in New York City and surrounding areas, I must say that the outstanding turnout we had, is living proof that when Caribbean-Americans efficaciously work together, we are stronger, and that we do have political power in our numbers.
Through the march, which started on Flatbush Avenue at Church Avenue and headed northwards to Grand Army Plaza, where the rally was held, we were able to bring out a massive number of participants from various sub-communities in our Diaspora. These include Caribbean-Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Whites — and together we made our voices heard as we registered our solidarity and boldly marched and rallied against police brutality and every other form of systemic discrimination that target black and brown people in America.
Appreciatively, the following elected officials addressed the massive gathering and delivered updates on new reformative legislative actions that are being undertaken at the federal, state and local levels: U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke; Senior New York State Assemblyman Nick Perry; NYS Assemblywoman Latrice Walker; and NYC Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. Unable to be present at this particular event, but known to be genuinely involved in the trenches and the new initiatives for legislative reforms, are Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, Assemblyman Charles Barron, Sen. Kevin Parker, Councilwomen Inez Barron, and Laurie Cumbo, and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.
During the march and at the rally, NYC Public Advocate Williams, a Caribbean-American, was particularly emphatic in his support for the initiative of a majority of NYC Council reps, to partially defund by one million dollars, the New York City Police Department, and to redirect one billion of the six billion allocated to that department, to instead cover our failing services in education, health, housing, and youth affairs.
Several community organizers/leaders, including Rickford Burke, Rose Guerrier, Chris Banks, Pastor Monrose, and Gerry Hopkin, also addressed the assembled rallying marchers.
Additionally, several young local artists – poets, singers, and drummers – performed on stage at the rally.
I am encouraged by the fact that as a result of the ongoing protests, since the May 25th killing of George Floyd by a White police officer in Minneapolis, we have been seeing some real reformative legislative action at the local, state and federal levels. However, I would’ve preferred it, if we did not have to wait until so many lives are lost at the hands of cops before we begin to get the reforms we have long been seeking and demanding.
Based on my passion for justice and the history of police misconduct against black and brown people, I must insist that much more than what we have seen so far, is needed. We cannot as a people allow certain non-impactful elected officials who are mostly concerned about re-electability, to preempt or to silence our calls for deep, concrete and comprehensive reforms, by now participating in the passage of new legislation, which in some instances don’t go far enough to bring about the changes we need in police protocols and practices in NYC and elsewhere. Thankfully, we know who our genuine representatives are, inclusive of the ones mentioned above, as well as, Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, Sen. Kevin Parker, Councilwomen Cumbo, and Inez Barron, and Borough President Eric Adams — who were unable to be present at the march and rally in person.
Before this is all over, we must see — among other changes and cultural shifts, which must happen in our education system, in our churches, in the lifestyles of sporting celebrities, in media content and our homes and local communities — the realization of the following:
comprehensive reforms of our penal codes; needed removal of racist judges; immediate charging and prosecution of cops who abuse and kill blacks and others (past and present); the establishment of a nationwide list of all police officers who have been found guilty of the violation of the rights of Blacks and others; employment of more black and brown police officers to enable real community policing; demilitarization of police departments; the institutional banning of the use of arrest-quota systems by police departments; and use of independent prosecutors against cops who abuse and kill without legal or commonsense justification are charged. And when a police offer wrongfully kills a human being, that officer should be held personally liable. Such an approach would mean that taxpayers would not be entirely responsible for compensatory payouts to victims. Cops would be the ones mainly held responsible. If they know that they would have to pay for their crimes with prison time and a financial burden, they may begin to respect the rights of black and brown people.
Proving our potential to be more than just the folks who can bring out a massive crowd to colorfully party and exhibit our culture, as we have been doing for many years in the West Indian American Day Carnival Association’s staging of the biggest Carnival in North America, the Caribbean-Americans for Justice March and Rally, proved that we can also quickly and effectively mobilize to protest against injustices and to demand the systemic changes we need about discrimination against Blacks in this country.
We are not new to this, because when we march, rally, and demand equal civil and human rights for black and brown-skinned people, we are doing it on the shoulders of many great US-based Caribbean-American activists who toiled for advancement ahead of us. The list includes Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), Shirley Chisholm, and Harry Belafonte — to name a few.
This instant march and rally were organized by a committee working as a team of dedicated community leaders from various Caribbean/West Indian countries, who are active in community-based movements and organizations in the Diaspora. Namely, they are Ann Williams, Chris Banks, Curtis Nelson, Gerry Hopkin, Pastor Gil Monrose, Heron Douglas aka Rocking J, Joy Irene Rathan, Minna Lafortune, Rickford Burke, Rose L Guerrier, and Rev. Dr. Terry Lee (listed in alphabetical order).
Additionally, the following Caribbean-American owned entities and individuals, donated equipment and services needed for the execution of this event: The Tool House Rental LLC; G.K.A. Transport; Shakedown Sound; Princess Cruise 2, LLC; RideAlong Live; Elique Media & Marketing Group; Dr. Denise J. Roberts, Ph.D.; Rev. Dr. Terry Lee and Byways and Hedges Youth Ministry; and Hopkins Consulting Group LLC. To each one of these individuals and entities, I say thank you on behalf of the Organizing Committee of this event, and our wider Caribbean-American community.
“May we maintain this intensified momentum towards leveling the playing field of life in America, for all people of black and brown complexions — always remembering that, Together, we are stronger,” said Blaize, after the march.