About 125 people participated in a rally in downtown Princeton this afternoon to call for justice for Mike Brown, the black 19-year-old who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9 even though he was unarmed.
The Rev. Carlton Branscomb, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Princeton, said Americans need to accept that racism is an illness in the country, a cancer that must be acknowledged so it can be cured.
“Black life is devalued in America. Institutional racism has not disappeared,” Branscomb said. “Healing will not come if we turn a blind eye. This is our time to speak up in a unified voice. If we do, the tide will turn and things will change for the better.”
Residents gathered at Tiger Park in front of Palmer Square and marched to Hinds Plaza for the rally, carrying signs with the slogans “Stop racism”, “Justice for Michael Brown” and “My hands are raised. Please don’t shoot.” Several black teens and children carried signs that read “I am Mike Brown.”
The rally was organized by individual residents and supported by a few community groups, including Not in Our Town and the Coalition for Peace Action. Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert was slated to speak at the rally but did not attend.
Patricia Fernandez-Kelly, a sociology professor at Princeton University, said post-racial America doesn’t exist. Citizens want to show their solidarity with the police, but there is an inequality on how people are treated in the country. Black men from poorer neighborhoods are at risk for violence and death at the hands of some police.
“The problem is clear,” she said. “There are people who are not treated as citizens. It is offensive and unacceptable.”
The Rev.Francisco Pozo of Christ Episcopal Church Cristo Rey in Trenton said people need to stand up and call for justice for all people in the country, not just one group or class of people. “Racism diminishes everyone,” he said.
A Princeton High School student who is black described how his parents trained him not to do anything to draw the attention of the police like wearing a hoodie. “I look forward to the day when I will not be an automatic suspect,” the student said.