Protesters chant ‘black lives matter,’ block mall traffic

For the first time since Madison’s Young, Gifted & Black Coalition formed and started weekly protests following a Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, hundreds of demonstrators purposely broke the law, blocking East Towne Mall traffic Saturday afternoon.

“Our purpose is to disrupt people’s routine, and disrupt their peace,” coalition leader Brandi Grayson said. “Because racism is very inconvenient for people who have to live with it in their day-to-day life, whether in school or in work. It’s very inconvenient. And it’s very disruptive. So we, in a sense, want to give people a glimpse of that.”

For nearly 20 minutes the demonstrators stopped traffic in front of the mall, along East Washington Avenue, chanting numerous attention grabbing pleas, including ‘Black lives matter,’ ‘This is what democracy looks like,’ and ‘Indict. Convict. Send that killer cop to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell.’

Under police escort, more than 200 activists traveled from the streets to East Towne Mall storefronts continuing the chants in front of shoppers and mall employees, before making their way to the food court.

From her megaphone Grayson shouted, “We are here to stand in solidarity for justice. We are here to awaken the humanity of each and every person in this mall.”

Then for the next 16 minutes, the demonstrators broke the law once again, laying down for a “die-in” directly in front of food court restaurants in homage to Eric Garner, after a police officer put him in a grappling hold when he refused to follow police orders.

“Being bothered by having us show up. For you not to get to your food of choice. Or having to stop and watch. Or be stuck in traffic for an extra 10 minutes. Our point and purpose is to disrupt,” Grayson said. “We understand everything happening in our nation doesn’t concern everybody. But it concerns people who look like me. It concerns our humanity. And one of our purposes and objectives is to wake up the humanity in everyone. That’s what needs to happen.”

While one of the Young, Gifted & Black Coalition’s stated purposes is also to reach young people, their message did not resonate with 21-year-old shopper Dylan Bruenig.

“It’s great that they want to protest a certain point. But it’s frustrating that there’s cops out there that die every day. And there’s not a huge protest about that,” Bruenig said.

That sentiment was echoed by numerous food court patrons caught off guard by the protest. Police had to help one woman with a baby, who became trapped when the protest started.

“What the organizers come up against is that at some point the cause can become dwarfed by those who are unsettled and disturbed,” Madison Police Chief Mike Koval, who looked on with numerous other officers, said. “But maybe that’s their point.”

“I say to them ‘I’m glad you don’t appreciate it,’ but now they’re talking about it,” Grayson said. “And I believe if we didn’t disrupt your day ‘black lives,’ the conversation, wouldn’t even be part of your dialogue.”

Koval said numerous drivers and patrons asked officers to arrest the protestors, which the police chief called an “effort of abject futility.”

“Because by the time you make that happen, the inefficiency of arresting and processing everyone, overtime, invading the jail with a lot of folks who would be going to jail, really wouldn’t make sense on many levels,” Koval said.

Grayson said the coalition’s weekly protests and attending any council meeting dealing with their primary demand, no new Dane County Jail funding, are far from over.

“Our pressure, and us showing up at the council meetings, will continue until those demands are answered,” Grayson said.

The county Public Protection & Judiciary Committee is currently considering an additional $8 million to study the plan, funding the Young, Gifted & Black Coalition are specifically targeting.

That $8 million is separate from the $135 million Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney is requesting for either building a new jail facility outside downtown Madison or adding on to and renovating the current jail. The sheriff has called the funding necessary to end prisoners being housed in solitary confinement because of current overcrowding.

“The efforts have been successful,” Grayson said. “People are now talking to us that wouldn’t have even bothered to talk to us before. I think we’re being very successful. And our numbers are growing. The more we show up, the more conversations we have. The more dialogue increases. And a lot of times people wouldn’t be having these conversations if we weren’t showing up in public places to say,’ No new jail.'”