Chanting “No justice, no peace,” “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter”, more than 500 students and faculty members at Princeton University staged a walk out on the campus today to protest racial discrimination and police brutality a day after a grand jury decided not to indict a New York police officer who killed a black Staten Island man.
Protesters marched in groups from all across the campus, carrying posters or holding their arms up in the air. A few hundred protesters then laid down on the ground in silence for 45 minutes to represent the 4.5 hours Michael Brown’s body was in the street in Ferguson, Missouri after he was shot by police officer Darren Wilson.
“The Princeton call to action stands in solidarity with the people of Ferguson and others demanding an end to radicalized state violence,” organizers said in a statement. “By remaining silent we are all complicit in this violence. We challenge our campus to stand in the nation’s service and fight for justice by rejecting the culture of apathy and reviving Princeton’s tradition of protest.”
The students who led the protest are part of the “Post-Ferguson at Princeton” movement organized by the Black Leadership Coalition, a council of student leaders formed in 2014 representing the Black Student Union, Princeton African Students Association, and other groups.
“How do we convince people that our lives matter, that we are worthy of justice?” asked one of the student leaders.
In addition to protesting the failure to indict the officers, the students are protesting what they describe as the nationwide structures of institutionalized racism that have created two separate and unequal justice systems based on skin color.
“I think that as Princeton students it is or duty to speak out on injustices that people of color experience on this campus, in our various home communities, and in America as a whole,” said student DeVann Sago of the class of 2016.
Student activists also point to the ongoing racial bias on Princeton’s campus as an additional impetus for the event. As an example, they said last night an anonymous comment was posted on the social media app Yik Yak with the phrase “colored people getting militant” suggesting a need to “call in the National Guard” at Princeton.
“Unfortunately, black skin is seen as a ubiquitous threat,” said Princeton student Khallid Love from the class of 2015. “Even Black folk simply existing collectively in a space is often regarded as ‘militant.’ This just reifies the irrational white fear that is running rampant on this campus and in the country at large.”
Across New York City, residents took to the streets Wednesday after a grand jury said it would not bring charges in the death of Eric Garner, 43. He was being arrested for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes on July 17 when New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in an illegal chokehold. Garner’s interaction with police and the chokehold that led to his death were captured on video (see below). The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, but the grand jury said Wednesday it would not indict Pantaleo.
Demonstrators gathered across the city to protest the decision, from the Staten Island neighborhood where Garner died to high-traffic areas in midtown Manhattan. They assembled in Times Square, Union Square and Lincoln Center. They marched down Broadway and blocked traffic on the West Side Highway. Late in the afternoon, a group of people appeared at Grand Central Station to stage a die-in. Protesters stretched out on the terminal floor to represent victims of police brutality.
Princeton resident Landon Jones wrote a piece for Time Magazine today about the protests and whether they will be the beginning of a new movement. You can read it online.