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National

Latest Protests Keep Attention On Police Killings Of Unarmed Minorities

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Activists across this country are trying to seize a moment. They believe they have the nation's attention after a series of police shootings. They say they want to stop a pattern of unarmed black men being killed by police. That's why people gathered in the streets of multiple cities yesterday. The size of the demonstrations varied, though the message was the same. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) This is what democracy looks like.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: In Chicago, hundreds of protesters march through the city's downtown. Sometimes, it got tense when police made a few arrests and stopped demonstrators from blocking city streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Wait, wait. Get back. Get back.

CORLEY: Jill McLaughlin was one of the protesters.

JILL MCLAUGHLIN: I'm tired of seeing black and Latino youth targeted by this system and killed like dogs in the street. That's wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We say to the police, if you can't respect us, you can't protect us.

CORLEY: In New York, protesters swarmed the Brooklyn Bridge during the event organized by academic and activist Cornel West.

CORNEL WEST: We're here for a call to shut down New York City and other cities out of a deep love for those who have been killed by the police across the nation.

CORLEY: For some, like Steff Reed, music was the best way to protest.

STEFF REED: (Singing) Bang, bang. They shoot you down before they say freeze. No Tarantino film - this here's reality.

I think for a while the issue seemed like a marginalized issue that was only with black people. And it was just something that we're exaggerating. And we're being emotional, and we're just making things up. Thank God to social media and thank God to these camera phone images and videos. They were able to see that this is an epidemic.

CORLEY: Sage Mead, who cut school to attend the Black Lives Matter protest, used art to make a statement. She drew the figure of an African-American male on the floor.

SAGE MEAD: Because lately we've been seeing a lot of those on the floor. We've been seeing a lot of those on the floor bleeding. We've been seeing them - their families crying on the floor - so might as well show it to everyone. That's why we're here today.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: You're ordered to get off the freeway. If you do not exit the freeway, you will be arrested.

CORLEY: On the other side of the country, protesters in Oakland briefly blocked a freeway ramp when they occupied the City Hall chambers. Sophia Smith was one of several who spoke.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

SOPHIA SMITH: We need to disarm these police officers that has a racist psychological mentality and disposition against blacks, Latinos and anybody non-white.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Rise up. Rise up. Rise up.

CORLEY: Across the bay in San Francisco, a group of young activists disrupted the Board of Supervisors meeting. And Amos Brown, the head of the NAACP in San Francisco, addressed the protesters.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

AMOS BROWN: So you may be proud today. And I thank God that you are able to, in an eloquent, dignified and determined way, spoke to the powers that be. And you spoke truth to power. And don't you let nobody turn you around.

CORLEY: In many of the cities, demonstrators said the protests that have come since this past summer's shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo., are making a difference. They point to recent cases where charges have been filed against police when unarmed minorities have died during encounters with police.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing) Which side are you on, friends? Which side are you on?

CORLEY: Back in Chicago, marcher Jasmine Hall says she's also encouraged by an agreement that calls for Chicago to provide reparations to people who survived being tortured by a former police commander. But Hall says that's just a first step in the effort to change police tactics.

JASMINE HALL: It matters, but it's not enough. So we can't get comfortable with the victories that we have. But at the same time, we should use them to fuel us, to keep standing up and doing what we're doing right now.

CORLEY: Protests which many demonstrators say won't end as long as the deaths of unarmed individuals during police encounters continue. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.