Pair of peaceful protests march through Brooklyn Thursday

Jamel Floyd MDC Protest
Activists gathered outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park on June 4 support the family of Jamel Floyd, who died inside the facility when corrections officers pepper sprayed him in his cell.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

Thousands of peaceful protesters marched through the streets of Brooklyn on Thursday afternoon to support the Black Lives Matter movement and decry recent police killings of a number of African Americans around the country. 

“I feel like I’m making an example, the more people are out here, the more our voice will get heard and the more that they see that we’re not going to stop until justice is served,” said a marcher who only gave her name as Jessica. 

The demonstrations, which originally began in New York City on May 28 in response to a Minneapolis police officer killing 46-year-old George Floyd, have since taken on a larger meaning as activists highlight the deaths of other black Americans — including 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, whom police fatally shot in Louisville, and 35-year-old inmate Jamel Floyd, who died after corrections officers pepper sprayed him in the face while he was in his cell at a federal prison in Sunset Park.

One of Thursday’s largest demonstrations followed an event at Grand Army Plaza, where a group of politicians — including state Sen. Zellnor Myrie and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson — held an afternoon press conference promoting a slate of bills to reform police departments across the state. Police pepper sprayed and handcuffed Myrie and pepper sprayed Richardson on May 29 at a protest at Barclays Center. 

A large group of marchers then proceeded just before 5 pm down Flatbush Avenue, while about a dozen baton-wielding police officers and a handful of squad cars followed the demonstrators as they walked through Downtown Brooklyn, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and Flatbush — before heading back towards their planned end point at Fulton Street and Bedford Avenue, as onlookers on the thoroughfares honked and cheered in support along the way. 

One organizer of the Flatbush march told his fellow demonstrators that police had planned to allow them to conclude their march peacefully if they dispersed and complied with the recently-instituted 8 pm curfew. 

“By the time we get to the end, they’re going to allow us all to disperse, go our ways and go home — no issues, no arrests, no one’s attacking the cops, no one’s attacking us. They’re with us,” said the organizer. “I want to make sure everyone gets home safe, and there’s no arrests tonight.”

But a handful of protesters took issue with working with police — including one man, who shouted “They’re not with us.”

The majority of marchers did disperse just before 10 pm, with the exception of some protest offshoots — including one nearby group who found themselves in a tense standoff with police on Washington Avenue between Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue. 

Councilman Brad Lander and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams stepped in to plead with senior police officials to allow the marchers to tire out, video footage from a Streetsblog reporter shows. 

“If you let it go for a little while more, people are going to march and keep marching and they’re going to say, ‘You know what? We didn’t have conflict,’” Lander told a group of white shirt cops. “So, keep marching, at some point they’re going to get tired, and they’re going to go home.”

Another group of demonstrators gathered in Sunset Park at around 5 pm, where activists and politicians alike chastised authorities over the death of Jamel Floyd, who died at the Metropolitan Detention Center on Wednesday after corrections officers pepper sprayed him in the face. 

From left: Activist Linda Sarsour, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Councilman Carlos Menchaca lead protesters to Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park.Photo by Paul Frangipane

That group  — led by activist Linda Sarsour, Councilman Carlos Menchaca, and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez — marched just over ten blocks from St. Michael’s Church at 43rd Street near Third Avenue to the detention center on 29th Street, where they met with Floyd’s awaiting family members.

Donna Mays, Floyd’s mother, said she’d last spoken to her son on Friday, when he had talked optimistically about his upcoming release in four months — but, Mays said, she could’ve never expected it would be the last time she heard from him.

“He was okay, he was in good spirits,” said Mays. “They murdered him.”

Velazquez told the crowd this is one of many times she has had to protest against acts of wrongdoing at this same detention center, but said she has never seen such an outpouring of support from the community any other time. 

“[Metropolitan Detention Center] represents what is wrong in America. This is a place where they are supposed to take care of the inmate population,” she said. “We have been here so many times.”

Donna Mays, mother of Jamel Floyd, gets choked up listening to Rep. Nydia Velasquez outside the Metropolitan Detention Center.Photo by Paul Frangipane

Inmates banged and cheered from inside the prison, which Sarsour claims is one of many unnecessary detention facilities in the city — as a majority of its detainees are either awaiting trial or are approaching release. 

Floyd’s family members also blasted the prison for not informing them of Floyd’s death — which they only found out about after a call from the prison’s chaplain.  

The city’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Barbara Sampson, said her office is conducting an independent investigation into Floyd’s death that will be “firmly rooted in science and medicine.”

A group martial directs protesters up Third Avenue in Sunset Park to the Metropolitan Detention Center on June 4 to protest the death of Jamel Floyd, who was incarcerated in the facility.Photo by Paul Frangipane