Tonight, December 8, Lebron James came through on his promise to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt during the warm-ups before the Cavaliers game with the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn. At the same game, the so-called royal couple, Prince and Princess whatever, came to see King James play. Unfortunately, he had said he was honored by their wanting to see him play. My guess is that he doesn’t understand that he’s earned his title but they haven’t. But we’ll leave that aside for more important news.
Before the Cavalier-Nets game began, a crowd of perhaps a thousand people had gathered in the plaza in front of the Barclay Center. They were packed closely together and had come up with what I think is a new chant: “Eric Garner, Michael Brown! Shut it Down!” People wanting to go to the game had to work their way through the crowd of protesters.
A bit after seven o’clock, the group began to walk in a circle in front of the arena—still on the sidewalk. In an odd encounter, a woman journalist with a European accent, and an accompanying camera person, asked me why I was there and if it had anything to do with the “royal” couple. I was not quite as prepared as I should have been but managed to say something about how I was as opposed to royalty in England as I was to the killing of young black men in the United States.
But my response didn’t matter. For, as if out of nothing, a couple of hundred people were walking down Flatbush Avenue and, as they were noticed, hundreds more followed them. The group marched just a short distance to the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues and stopped. After a few minutes of standing in place, several of the apparent organizers began shouting, in what I believe to be the softest shouts that I have ever heard, that people should start walking in circles around the now completely blocked intersection. Within thirty seconds, everyone started doing so. And they continued to do so for about twenty minutes—effectively creating an oasis of peace and quiet in the middle of what is the central intersection of Brooklyn.
Brooklyn does not have a Times Square but, if it did, it would be the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue—Flatbush Avenue runs for miles from the foot of the Manhattan Bridge in downtown Brooklyn to the Gil Hodges Bridge to the Rockways and Atlantic Avenue runs for miles from the edge of Brooklyn Heights to East New York, close to Kennedy Airport. If you want to stop traffic in Brooklyn, you stop it at that intersection. And people stopped it tonight! Indeed, if you want to stop Brooklyn, you do it there. But, so far as I know, no one ever did it before tonight.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke on a panel about “The Hunger Games and Revolution.” While I spoke, I read some passages from the books. In one instance, I read the thoughts of Katniss Everdeen (the young heroine of the books and movies) when she looked out upon the people of District 12:
I stand there, feeling broken and small, thousands of eyes trained on me. There’s a long pause. Then, from somewhere in the crowd, someone whistles Rue’s four-note mockingjay tune. The one that signaled the end of the workday in the orchards. The one that means safety in the arena. By the end of the tune, I have found the whistler, a wizened old man in a faded red shirt and overalls. Hie eyes meet mine.
What happens next is not an accident. It is too well executed to be spontaneous, because it happens in complete unison. Every person in the crowd presses the three middle fingers of their left hand against their lips and extends them to me. It’s a sign from District 12, the last good-bye I gave Rue in the arena.
What has been happening across the United States and even across the world in these last few weeks is “not an accident. It is too well executed to be spontaneous, because it happens in complete unison.” It suggests the beginnings of a new tomorrow. Tonight outside the Barclay Center was another small moment in that beginning.