Why Black Lives Matter And Fight For 15 Are Protesting Side-By-Side

Anthony Plummer (right) protesting for a $15 minimum wage and to demand justice for Akai Gurley’s death. CREDIT: KIRA LERNER
Anthony Plummer (right) protesting for a $15 minimum wage and to demand justice for Akai Gurley’s death. CREDIT: KIRA LERNER

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK — On Thursday, low-wage workers across the country are taking to the streets to demand a $15 minimum wage. In New York, the protests were scheduled for the same day that a New York police officer was set to be sentenced for the killing of Akai Gurley, one of the most high-profile police misconduct cases in recent city history.

Though a judge postponed the sentencing of former NYPD officer Peter Liang while allegations of juror misconduct are considered, hundreds of people still rallied outside the courthouse on Thursday to represent two of the largest social movements to sweep the country in recent years — the Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter.

Police violence is usually, predominantly in communities that suffer economic violence.

“When you think about the Fight for 15 and you think about Black Lives Matter, it intersects,” said Dawn O’Neal, who traveled to New York from Atlanta to support both movements. “Police violence is usually, predominantly in communities that suffer economic violence. So it goes hand in hand.”

O’Neal is a child care worker who makes $8.50 an hour. Atlanta, like New York, has large populations of low-wage workers. Both have had recent police violence cases demand the country’s attention.

“When we look at communities that are higher in crime, they have more police violence of course, but it’s because of economic conditions. People are hungry. People need to feed their families, and we can’t survive on wages like $7.25 and $8.50 in today’s economy A lot of desperate times, unfortunately, call for desperate measures.”

CREDIT: Kira Lerner
CREDIT: Kira Lerner

Protesters held signs that read: “Economic Justice = Racial Justice = Immigrant Justice.” Others wore shirts with the words “I can’t breathe” — Eric Garner’s now infamous last words — alongside “Fight for 15.”

“It’s black and brown communities that suffer the most,” O’Neal said. “I believe that once we have better wages and our wages our increased, parents won’t have to work two and three jobs to make ends meet. They’ll have more time with their children. Our communities will be a better place.”

In 2014, 28-year-old Akai Gurley was shot and killed by a NYPD officer patrolling his public housing building, one unit of the expansive and notoriously dangerous Louis H. Pink Houses in East New York, Brooklyn. Ninety percent of residents of East New York are people of color, and a third live below the poverty line.

Gurley, the father of a two-year-old daughter, was not the first unarmed, black New Yorker to be killed in a housing project.

Anthony Plummer, a New Jersey resident who lived in Manhattan until his rent became prohibitive for his minimum-wage salary from Starbucks, told ThinkProgress that incidents of police violence are caused by a culture in which working class people are underpaid and undervalued.

“There’s a major disconnect with the people of the working class and people in a tax bracket that doesn’t really align with those, and it’s a very violent one and a mean one,” he said. “And I think that needs to be acknowledged so we can progress into a society that respects each other and would do right by their follow person, and just do humane things, and not act out of fear or violence or ignorance. And better understand each other.”

Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter have previously teamed up for actions across the country. In November, when the movements held protests in hundreds of cities, activists from Oakland, California explained why they were protesting together in a statement released at the time. “Black Lives Matter Bay Area joined this day of action because when more than half of all Black workers make less than $15 an hour we have to take a stand to say Black Lives Matter at work, too,” the statement said.

And last October, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza spoke at an event alongside Kendall Fells, a lead organizer for Fight for $15.

“I don’t have to be a worker today and a queer person tomorrow and a woman tonight. I can be all of those things at once,” Garza said. “What’s important about the high levels of participation [in these movements] is that it signals that there is space for people to be who they are unapologetically and for us to fight among multiple dimensions.”