Hundreds of people blocked off traffic at the intersection of University Avenue and 13th Street in Gainesville on Monday evening.
This is the first time this intersection has been shut down since 1972, according to Nailah Summers, protest organizer.
At 4:15 p.m., protestors gathered for a #BLACKLIVESMATTER March at the Martin Luther King Memorial Garden in downtown Gainesville, across from Bo Diddley Plaza.
Protestors, many of whom wore all black clothing and carried signs, walked about a mile from downtown to the intersection of University and 13th, blocking all west-bound traffic with their march.
The march was organized by the Dream Defenders and the University of Florida Students for a Democratic Society.
Brittany King, a Santa Fe junior and one of the march organizers, said that the march was about fighting the system.
“The purpose of the march was to have a sense of awakening here in Gainesville,” King said. “There’s a resounding ideal that things like this don’t affect this town.”
Gainesville’s Mayor Ed Braddy said 150 people initially turned out for the protest, but that number quickly grew to 200 as they marched down University Ave. singing and chanting phrases like, “I can’t breathe!,” “Black lives matter!”, and “No justice, no peace!”
Once the group reached the intersection, they blocked all four directions of traffic for 11 minutes—one minute for each time Eric Garner told the police that he could not breathe.
While the group did not notify the police about the event prior to the march, officers did show up as the group was gathering at the memorial gardens. Officers asked if the group wanted their help blocking off the street. One police car tailed the marchers, and others diverted traffic from the intersection.
One attendee, Alvarez Tarver, a St. Augustine resident who drove to Gainesville for the event, said that she came to the march prepared to get arrested and found the police presence to be peaceful, which had a negative effect on the march.
“I found that the action felt a bit domesticated,” Tarver said. “I felt like the cops allowed us to be there, whereas, speaking for myself obviously, I felt like the intention was to shut it down.”
Tarver also said that she was prepared to be an inconvenience during the march; she was prepared for someone to honk their horn at her.
Gainesville Police Dept. spokesman Ben Tobias said that he and the rest of the police department understand that these events come with heavy emotions and it is their responsibility to allow these emotions to be demonstrated.
“As a professional agency, we must protect and serve everyone, and allow others to protest peacefully,” said Tobias. Moreover, “it is our responsibility to give anyone and everyone a fair and even chance to protest as stated by their first amendment rights.”
Kayla Coleman, a Gainesville resident, agreed that she came to the march to inconvenience people.
“Black people being killed every day is an inconvenience to our lives,” Coleman said.
“Black people being on the lookout every day for police, being followed in stores, that is an inconvenience to our lives,” she said. “I was coming into that space with an attorney to be contacted, knowing that I might have to spend some hours in prison if that’s what it takes.”
Coleman also mentioned the diversity of people in attendance at the march and said that it is important to build a “coalition of all sorts of people.”
King said that the movement is gaining momentum and that people should expect more demonstrations. She said there’s a great opportunity for the communities in Gainesville to get involved.
“We can mobilize. We can get people involved. We can get them active,” King said.
“It’s about waking them up to the matter that this should be important to you. These are lives,” she said. “People’s lives should be important to you.”
After 11 minutes in the intersection, protestors moved to a nearby vacant lot. They ended the demonstration in a big, closed circle, chanting, “We have the duty to fight! We have the duty to win! We have the duty to love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”