Protesters stage die-in at lighting of Greensboro Christmas tree

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The demonstrators were already in position as the crowd, thousands strong, began singing “Silent Night” in Greensboro’s Center City Park. To magnify the towering Christmas tree before the lights were flicked on, other lights nearby turned out. But as the countdown for the lighting reached “one,” dozens of activists protesting police violence across the country staged a die-in directly in front of the Christmas tree.

The coordinated action, just one of many that have occurred in Greensboro this week, quickly captured the attention of many people nearby, and numerous people joined in the demonstration, chanting alongside about 50 activists. April Parker, one of the organizers, led die-in participants and a ring of other people standing with a banner and signs in chants.

Participants chanted things such as “Black lives matter!” and other refrains of grief, rage and resilience that have quickly become staples of an invigorated movement for police accountability in Greensboro. Activists met last night to plan and discuss specific elements of their local organizing against police violence and for community healing (read more about that in Citizen Green in next week’s issue of Triad City Beat).

Photos: Check out this slideshow of pictures from the die-in protest by Amanda Salter.

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The struggle around police use of force and accountability long predates the recent deaths in other cities that caught the national spotlight. Activists have pushed for a local police review board with subpoena power, among other aims. Despite revisions to the review process by city council, proponents have said the process still lacks teeth.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan didn’t know what to say. She has struggled to find the right words for days, she said.

“I think they’re demonstrating peacefully,” she told Triad City Beat while standing in front of the stage as the protest continued. “I understand their frustration. I have really tried to think about what words would make a difference, and I really can’t see any.”

Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, who was standing with Vaughan, walked over to the circling protesters soon after.

“I think that’s fine, and people have a right to free speech,” Hightower said to Triad City Beat. “I understand that Michael Brown and all of them aren’t going to get to have Christmas. But I think they’ve made their point now.”

Brown, a black teenager, was shot to death by Ferguson, Mo. police Officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury decided not to indict Wilson, and earlier this week a separate grand jury in New York chose not to indict any of the officers involved in the choking death of Eric Garner. Both men were unarmed.

After the grand jury decision in the Garner case, activists in Greensboro quickly organized a rally and then a civil disobedience action at the intersection of Market and Elm streets, blocking traffic around 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 2. On Tuesday and tonight, participants moved in what was clearly a well planned action, facilitated by organizers including April Parker and Irving Allen.

With colorful Christmas lights behind them, demonstrators lifted up the names of other people who have died at the hands of police such as Jonathan Ferrell in Charlotte. Several of the members of the Festival of Lights crowd, including a handful who ranged from about 10 to 18, joined in the chants.

Protesters eventually stood up, chanting in a circle as they have before with electric energy, “I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!” and marching in a circle around the Christmas tree. About 30 minutes after the action began, participants chose to file out of the park, marching to the Beloved Community Center where they gathered to continue holding a speak out.

  • “You know I’m with you.” WHATEVER. If she was with us, she would have joined us, like dozens of people did right there on the spot. We came in with about 40 people, and we marched out with over a hundred. Politicians need to stop talking out their neck and get on the streets where it matters.

    • Walle, A.

      Their neck is all that politicians talk about.

  • Chuck

    It was a peaceful protest and I feel there should have been indictments. However, they had a die in at a family function. Little kids watched these grown men and women throw themselves front of the Christmas tree. This didn’t help their cause, they alienated all these parents who saw their children traumatized.

    • Salem

      I don’t think there is anything traumatic to a child about people literally just laying on the ground. Confusing, maybe, but not traumatic. People there were protesting violence that actually harms children (e.g. Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old who was recently killed by police). Some parents brought their kids to participate. ‘Traumatic’ is quite a stretch.

  • Valerie

    We are trying to fight for a world where all childrencare safe to grow to adulthood. I hope you can help your children learn that when a grave injustice has been done people will fight to make it right.

  • Asa

    I think making it visible is the point. To protest only where appropriate is to protest where it’s easy to ignore.

  • I wrote about my experience at the die-in on TheColorLilac.com. You’ll find that I addressed the issue with the “children” there as well. I wrote verbatim:

    “To the white parents taking offense because their children felt afraid during last night’s Christmas Tree Lighting Die-In? Realize you just experienced what black parents feel on a saddening regular basis when raising children in America. In fact, the die-in created the perfect opportunity to teach your children about the destruction of white privilege, equal rights and standing up for justice. Have fun with that. It’s hard for us to talk to our children about it too, but we do it. That might explain why I saw little black children run to the tree to chant with us, while white children clung to their parents’ pants leg teary-eyed. Just an observation.”

    This is not to say no black children were confused or scared, but I have heard this same argument about the children from white people primarily, so that is what I addressed, along with the problematic comments of the councilwoman.

    Read more here: http://thecolorlilac.com/2014/12/06/my-greensboro-die-in-experience-the-good-the-bad-the-enraging/

  • Walle, Alexander

    It is, for some, terrible that such realities “ruin” Christmas.