Protesters pose during a photo shoot and use the hashtag #BlackOutHandsUp at Zuccotti Park on Nov. 27.
After waiting for over an hour for a Black Lives Matter rally at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan to begin on Nov. 27, Malika Giddens, 22, and Evan Scott, 23, decided to take the situation into their own hands.
“I initially didn’t want to, but Evan kept pushing me to do something,” said Giddens, a native of Brooklyn. “If we didn’t do anything, nothing would have happened. I felt I had to.”
The event was announced on a Facebook page called “#BlackLivesMatter #NotBlackFriday – The March on New York,” and was initially scheduled to last from 1 p.m. until 10 p.m. It was supposed to include a demonstration with signs and marching throughout downtown Manhattan. By 2 p.m. the organizers from Justice for Mike Brown New York, a Facebook group aimed at demanding justice for the victims of police brutality, had still not arrived. Giddens and Scott then decided to gather the people waiting for the rally to begin.
The turnout was not the critical mass of demonstrators Giddens and Scott had hoped for when they decided to participate in the event, but they came up with a strategy to spread the message about the rally.
“We had ideas for a photo campaign and thought maybe we could do something to make this event go viral,” said Scott.
The crowd stood and posed together while several of the protestors began taking photos of the group. Giddens suggested that participants share the photos on social media with the hashtag #BlackOutHandsUp. Many did.
“It was one of those things where I saw #BlackOutBlackFriday all over social media,” said Giddens. “So I thought I might as well continue the pattern of the hashtags, and I just came up with this one.”
Many in the diverse crowd, which grew to over 50 people, spent several minutes chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot” before poetry was read and a conversation began on race, police brutality and how allies can show solidarity.
“It’s important for allies to come to these events and show support for the movement,” said Carmen Melillo, 28, who is white. “I come from privilege, but I’ve been educated and realize there is still a lot of injustice taking place.”
After the event concluded, both Giddens and Scott described their experiences encountering racism in an interview. Giddens, who is half black and half Latina, said she has encountered prejudices within her own community.
“My passion for social justice has stemmed from my racial identity,” she said. She even encountered anti-blackness within her own family, she said, “because I look black and not Latina whatsoever.”
While in junior high school, Giddens’ family was turned away from an apartment once the landlord discovered they were biracial, she said.
“When my mother told him that she was Latina and her husband was black and had biracial kids, all of a sudden the apartment wasn’t for rent, and we couldn’t live there,” Giddens said. “Even though it wasn’t legal, it was an in-your-face moment. Since then I always question people’s actions and wonder if they treat me a certain way because I’m black.”
Scott, a transgender African-American man, said he experiences discrimination on a daily basis.
“I’m trans, and I get misgendered all of the time,” Scott said. “I get stared down by police constantly and people think I look weird. Being black and trans just makes you a target for microaggressions.”
The two friends met as undergraduates at Ithaca College and recently graduated in May. Both were involved in social activism there. Scott started and continues to run Queer Kids Care X Black Lives Matter, an organization focused on issues of racial privilege affecting people of color and the LGBTQIA community. Giddens works for ColorofChange, an organization aimed at working for political and social change for African-Americans.
Other #BlackLivesMatter #NotBlackFriday protests were scheduled to take place Friday in San Diego, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, among other cities. And in Chicago, protestors urged shoppers to boycott Black Friday in response to the release of dash cam footage showing teenager Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by a police officer. Demonstrators attempted to block store entrances along the Magnificent Mile.
Though Giddens and Scott quickly pulled together the photoshoot, rally and in-depth conversation in under two hours, they were disappointed that the original organizers failed to show up.
“The fact that they weren’t present and weren’t responding to any of our means of contact ruins their credibility,” said Giddens. “If two people like us weren’t here, these people would have left without any reason to continue to support the Black Lives Matter Movement and that’s not fair.”
In a phone interview, Danilo Ignacio, who was listed as the media relations contact for the event, said he didn’t make it to Zuccotti Park because he had been detained for three hours in Harlem by two New York City police detectives. The NYPD did not response to a request for verification of Ignacio’s story.