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Protesters Stage a 'Die In' in Longworth Cafeteria

Protesters participate in a "die in" in the Longworth cafeteria. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Roughly 20 to 30 protesters staged a “die in” in the Longworth House Office Building cafeteria Wednesday afternoon to bring attention to police militarization and racial profiling.  

The protest, first reported by The Washington Post, began at approximately 12:30 p.m. According to a cafeteria worker present for the demonstration, the protesters laid down on the ground between the cash registers and tables for about five minutes. Protestors held signs with “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe,” written on them, echoing slogans from protests that erupted across the country after Michael Brown, an African-American teenager, was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., in August.  

Bend the Arc, a Jewish organization, organized the Wednesday protest along with Auburn Seminary. The demonstrators included Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy members and lay people of various faiths and backgrounds. The group chose to demonstrate in the crowded Capitol Hill eating area frequented by staffers and lawmakers to urge Congress to act.  

"This idea for this particular action began to take shape several weeks ago, but we see it very much as part of our longstanding effort to address racial justice and our newer commitment to be supporting the demands coming out of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc, said in a Wednesday phone interview.  

“It also felt important for us to really bring the protest movement that’s out on the streets, in city and [cities] across the country, into the halls of power where members of Congress and their staff really do their business,” she said.  

The protesters certainly caused a stir in Longworth, as the cafeteria worker noted the large dining area was busy in the heart of lunchtime. Cotler explained that the original plan was for protestors to lie on the ground for four-and-a-half minutes, signifying the four-and-a-half hours Brown's body was left on the Ferguson street.  

"We were not able to complete the full four-and-a-half minutes but I think we got close,” Cotler said. She described that after a few minutes, the Capitol Police instructed the demonstrators to leave or said they would be arrested, so they left. None of the protesters were arrested.  

Cotler and her fellow demonstrators also came with a list of demands for Congress, which included considering legislation banning racial profiling, holding hearings on discriminatory police practices, a demilitarization of police, and ending tactics such as “jump-outs,” where plain-clothed officers in unmarked cars conduct searches.  

“It’s imperative that Congress does address the demands. These elected officials theoretically represent a constituency," she said. "Americans are not going to back down."  

For Cotler, the protest Thursday was also significant because of the diverse group of protesters. “For me this was such a meaningful action in large part because it was done in a multiracial, multifaith, intergenerational partnership," she said.  

This is not the first time the "Black Lives Matter" protests have come to Capitol Hill. In December, African-American staffers demonstrated on the East Front steps striking what has become the iconic "hands up" pose. Protests that erupted in D.C. following the grand jury's decision in November not to indict Wilson in Brown's death also included a march to the Capitol grounds.  

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