GREENWICH VILLAGE — Tens of thousands of protesters packed into Washington Square Park on Saturday afternoon to march against police brutality, in the city's biggest demonstration since grand juries decided not to indict police in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner on Staten Island.
The Millions March NYC protest surged up Fifth Avenue, led by the relatives of Sean Bell and other police shooting victims. Marchers shouted, "No justice, no peace" and "How do you spell racist? N-Y-P-D." They carried signs referencing Garner's last words, as he was trapped in a police chokehold earlier this year: "I can't breathe."
The march spanned dozens of blocks, as protesters turned west from Fifth Avenue onto 14th Street and then north up Sixth Avenue. When they crossed 23rd Street, the last of the demonstrators were just leaving the starting point at Washington Square Park.
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A police source estimated that the march was at least 20,000 people strong. Activists said the number was more than 50,000.
Ekere Tallie, 41, who grew up in New York and remembered marching against police brutality as a teenager, noted that Saturday's marchers were "people from all different backgrounds," and marveled at the size of the event.
"It's like people's eyes are suddenly open," she added. "And that's a great thing."
Celebrities on social media — including Shonda Rhimes, Alicia Keys and P. Diddy — threw their support behind the event, which was organized by two young New York women, Sinead Nichols, 23, an artist, and Umaara Elliot, 19, a dancer.
"All lives matter, not just black lives but every life," Nichols, who lives in Harlem, told DNAinfo New York at a protest over the Ferguson grand jury decision last month.
The New York City march coincided with demonstrations across the country on Saturday, including a protest on the National Mall in Washington, DC that drew thousands of people, according to reports.
Some protesters in New York were frustrated by an apparent lack of a single, coherent message, with people in the crowd sometimes chanting over each other.
"We're all just saying stuff to say stuff," said Greg Morris, 25, who lives in The Bronx. "They're going from 'Whose streets' to 'Black lives matter.' There's no leader going to talk to Obama. We need one voice."
Tallie, who lives in Queens, was one of several protesters who expressed dismay at the feeling that little has changed since the marches she attended as a teen.
"The police are killing our kids and it's 2014," said Tallie. "It's really sad that we have to do this again now."
"I have two children," she added. "It's painful to be out here again."