During rush hour Monday, for the first time in 42 years, the intersection of West University Avenue and Northwest 13th Street was taken over — this time by indignation.
Outrage was painted on the faces of more than 150 people who formed a circle at the intersection at the culmination of a #BLACKLIVESMATTER march led by UF’s Dream Defenders. Together, they protested both Michael Brown’s and Eric Garner’s deaths and the events that followed.
“We shut down this intersection in 1972, but how much did it take for us to do it again?” UF Dream Defenders founder Nailah Summers asked the assembled crowd.
Too many lives, she said.
The group blocked the intersection for 11 minutes to symbolize the 11 times New Yorker Eric Garner told police he couldn’t breathe after an officer held him in a chokehold.
In an emotional speech, UF telecommunication junior Clara Lazarre told the group to remember the lives lost to police brutality.
“You tell me to fear ISIS, and yet every time I pass the police I hold my breath,” the 20-year-old yelled into a megaphone.
The crowd cheered back as one man held up both of his hands. Around the group, police cars blocked traffic.
Summers, who is also a co-coordinator at the Civic Media Center, organized the event with the Dream Defenders, UF Students for a Democratic Society and various other groups and community members.
“I heard that people are tired of the same sort of rallies,” Summers said. “People are tired of standing on the corner and yelling with signs.”
People of many races, ages and backgrounds came together — some for the first time — for Monday’s march, which began in front of City Hall and blocked the rightmost lane of traffic traveling west on West University Avenue.
The procession of people dressed in all black — some wearing masks and most with signs — chanted its way through downtown.
“No justice, just us!” they shouted.
Some cars honked in approval. Workers rushed out of shops with their phones in hand. Others gathered behind store windows recording the protest.
An elderly white woman in a champagne Nissan shook her head from inside her car. A few minutes later, a white man rolled his windows down, honked his horn and pumped his fists with the crowd.
Bobbing through the crowd with his hand-drawn sign was Cody Galligan’s 7-year-old son Naim Siembra.
Naim was one of the few children at the event, holding up a small sign that said in scrawled black marker: “Black Lives Matter.”
“I think it’s really important for them to experience this and see how strong their parents feel about this and not be desensitized to all the stuff that’s going on in the world,” said Galligan, who also marched with 3-year-old Sofi strapped behind his back.
It was Galligan’s first protest in Gainesville, but he said he felt compelled to act.
“I was ready to get arrested,” Galligan, 35, said.
Summers said the march was an opportunity for people to express a national feeling of outrage. As the 11 minutes ticked to an end at the intersection, protesters turned to the crowd of cars and pedestrians standing on the perimeter.
“What side are you on?” they shouted in unison.
Political science junior Azaari Mason led the procession carrying a small gray coffin and wearing a white mask over his mouth and nose. The 19-year-old Dream Defenders member said the march brought together people he had never seen at the group’s events.
“Today was an exercise of the collected power that we the people, endowed in this nation, have the right to do,” Mason said. “For too long we have allowed ourselves to believe that we have no power. That ends today.”
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 12/7/2014]
Protesters for the #BLACKLIVESMATTER march walk west on University Avenue on Monday afternoon.