CHICAGO – Not all Americans are kicking back to watch fireworks to celebrate independence this holiday weekend.
Amid thousands of protests against police brutality and a pandemic that has disproportionately ravaged communities of color, many people spent the Fourth of July drawing attention to what they say is a hypocritical celebration of freedom.
Protesters held rallies, marches and sit-ins Saturday in Chicago, Washington, Los Angeles and more than a dozen other U.S. cities and towns.
On Friday, protesters blocked a highway leading up to Mount Rushmore, where President Donald Trump was scheduled to speak. Police used pepper spray and arrested the protesters, who argue the land in which the monument lies on – Black Hills – was seized from the Lakota Sioux by the U.S. government in the 1800s, and that the Trump administration opposes the interests of Native Americans and other minority groups.
On Saturday in the nation's capital, where Trump planned to host hundreds of people at the White House for music and fireworks, organizers led several demonstrations across the city amid the 90-degree heat. Dozens of veterans marched in support of Black lives near the National Mall. Some organizers camped out in tents along Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Kerrigan Williams, co-founder of Freedom Fighters D.C. helped lead a "Juliberation" march through the city's Northwest neighborhoods.
The Independence Day holiday "doesn’t really mean anything when Black people weren't free on July 4th and those same liberties weren't afforded to us," said Williams, who has been co-organizing marches in the city for at least three weeks. "We're still marching for the same things."
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Williams, who grew up in Houston, said she used to mark the Fourth of July with family cookouts. But thoughts of her enslaved ancestors always lingered in the back of her mind. The family's real celebration, Williams said, was on Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating June 19, 1865, when Galveston, Texas, finally got the news that President Abraham Lincoln had freed enslaved people in rebel states two and a half years earlier.
Some military vehicles and MPD police cars are out barricading streets in downtown DC ahead of July 4 protests and celebrations tonight: pic.twitter.com/aSEvA8tUOj— Nicholas Wu (@nicholaswu12) July 4, 2020
Amy Yeboah, a professor of Africana Studies at Howard University, joined dozens of law students for an eight-hour sit-in outside the Supreme Court.
"We're honoring Black women – the lives that have been lost to police brutality – but also the blind eye that America has to the injustices that face Black women," Yeboah said, invoking the names of Breonna Taylor, Rekia Boyd and Aiyana Jones, who were fatally shot by police.
"This being the celebration of independence, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I’ll be talking about how these are not things Black women have been given the space to celebrate," Yeboah said. "Their justice is still being considered."
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In Chicago, hundreds gathered downtown Saturday afternoon for a rally and march through the streets. Dozens more were marching in neighborhoods across the city.
Rabbi Michael Ben Yosef, an activist and South Side resident who organized the downtown protest, said he grew up celebrating the Fourth of July with family, watching fireworks and having barbecues. As he grew older, started his studies, experienced police brutality and lost a nephew to gun violence, that all began to change.
"Independence for people of color has not been part of our livelihood. We’re constantly murdered, harassed because of police brutality all over the country. The concept of freedom does not seem to come to our doorstep, even though we've been here 400 years," Yosef said. "We look it as an abomination to recognize anything that comes with the Fourth of July."
Yosef said event-goers planned to take a knee in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds in memory of George Floyd. A violinist was also expected to play the Black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Yosef had prepared a banner for the march bearing the face of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and his famous words – "What to the slave is the Fourth of July?"
The quote comes from a July 5, 1852, address that Douglass gave at an Independence Day celebration in Rochester, New York. "Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common," he said. "This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn."
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In Brooklyn, New York, activists held a "Confronting July 4th" march and rally to honor Black and indigenous activists, saying they "refuse to celebrate the whitewashing of this country."
Jo Macellaro, who helped to organize the event, said Douglass' words still ring true, more than 160 years later.
"So much of it is still relevant," Macellaro said. "What does the Fourth of July mean to people who are still oppressed, marginalized – who don’t have all the freedoms we’re supposed to have in this country?"
In Los Angeles, dozens gathered for a "Farce of July" march and caravan. In Seattle, organizers hosted a "4th the Culture" day of performances celebrating black lives. And in Pittsburgh, where pro-Trump groups held a boat parade to celebrate Independence Day, dozens of protesters – many dressed in black – gathered along the marina and nearby bridge, chanting "no KKK, no fascist USA."
Many more protests were planned in Atlanta; Boston; Cleveland; Honolulu; Detroit; Newark, New Jersey; New York City; Orlando, Florida; Houston; San Francisco; and Philadelphia. But not all of the protests were taking place in the nation's largest cities.
Roughly 100 people gathered at a park in Tallahassee, Florida, Saturday morning to march to the Historic Capitol as a protest against police misconduct. The group shouted "enough is enough" and "say their names; too many!" as well as several other chants as some held their fists in the air.
Des Moines Black Lives Matter protesters congregated at the Iowa State Capitol for a demonstration led by Black and Indigenous activists calling for the removal of "monuments to white supremacy" in Iowa.
In Stone Mountain Park, Georgia – home to a massive carving of Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson on horseback – about 175 people, all wearing black, held a "peaceful march," according to police.
In Salem, Oregon, a portion of downtown was closed Saturday for a Black Lives Matter Solidarity Rally. The event, coordinated by Salem Community Organizers, was expected to draw up to 1,000 people, City of Salem officials said Thursday.
In Baltimore, protesters pulled down a statue of Christopher Columbus and threw it into the city's Inner Harbor on Saturday night.
In Brazil, Indiana, immigrant advocates gathered Saturday afternoon outside the Clay County Courthouse to urge authorities to suspend immigration enforcement and release federal detainees held at the jail there. The protest began around 10 a.m. in Indianapolis before a caravan made its way to Brazil.
Artists nationwide were advocating a similar message over the weekend through a public art performance called "In Plain Sight." The project used sky typing – writing in the sky using water vapor released from planes – to spell artist-created messages at 80 immigration detention facilities, immigration courts, former internment camps and other landmarks.
Many protest organizers said they planned to ask participants to social distance, wear masks and use hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Some said that medical personnel would also be handing out face masks.
"Of course, you're always going to be scared, but it's for the movement for Black liberation. You have to risk (for) that," said Williams, who said she is immunocompromised.
The nation has a long history of Independence Day demonstrations.
In 1854, abolitionists including William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth and Henry David Thoreau held a rally in Framingham, Massachusetts, where Garrison burned copies of the Fugitive Slave Law and the U.S. Constitution.
From 1965 to 1968, gay rights activists picketed outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In 1976, prisoners at the Marion, Illinois, federal penitentiary staged a hunger strike against their inhumane treatment there. In 1986, after the Supreme Court upheld a Georgia statute that largely criminalized homosexual activity, activists protested in New York City.
More recently, in 2013, following revelations about NSA mass surveillance programs, Restore the Fourth, a nonprofit supporting the Fourth Amendment, held rallies in dozens of cities. And in 2018, Patricia Okoumou climbed the Statue of Liberty to protest the detention of migrant children.
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Contributing: Alicia Devine, Tallahassee Democrat; Natalie Pate, Salem Statesman Journal; Robin Opsahl, Maya Miller and Philip Joens, Des Moines Register; Indianapolis Star; Kalley Huang, El Paso Times; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: July 4th protests: Some refuse to celebrate independence amid BLM