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Princeton Seminary Students and Staff Turn out in Force to March for Racial Justice

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More than 350 students, faculty members and staff at Princeton Theological Seminary took to the streets today to protest police brutality and racial discrimination in the wake of the New York grand jury’s failure  to indict a police officer for the death of Eric Garner.

Protesters gathered in the center courtyard at the seminary, and then marched along Mercer Street as community members, local ministers and the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey joined them. At one point the line of marchers, walking three in a row, arms entwined, spanned all the way from Nassau Street to the seminary entrance.

“Today we gather as a seminary community at a critical time, a time when black men and women and youth are losing their lives at the hands of those who are to protect them,” said Janice Smith Ammon, the minister of the Princeton Seminary Chapel “It is a critical time, and it is a despairing time, for we thought we were much farther regarding this issue of race than we actually are. With the election of a black president we thought a new season had been confirmed, and yet we are here again, sharing the Psalmist’s lament. How long, oh Lord, how long?”

“It’s a time when we need to ask with all of our hearts how God wants us as people of faith and leaders of Christ’s church to respond. We may not all land at the same place when we ask this question. But for those who gather here today, it is clear that it is a time to speak out — to speak out against political systems and power structures that are causing destruction. It’s time to stand with individuals of color in our nation, and in our seminary community, for there are many right here standing next to us who, just about every day, feel invisible, unheard and sometimes unsafe. We need to tell truths and we need to continue to work hard for change.”

The protest is the third rally in the Princeton area in five days. More than 500 students at Princeton University held a rally on Thursday, and about 75 protesters gathered at the Quaker Bridge Mall on Saturday afternoon. All three protests were peaceful.

Marchers today walked along Mercer Street in silence to honor the memory of blacks who have been killed by police. When they reached the intersection of Nassau Street and University Place, they stopped and held a rally, chanting “Back Lives Matter” and “We can’t breathe.” Several students gave speeches, talking about the racial discrimination they and others experience on a daily basis. A daughter of a police officer spoke out against police brutality, and another student read a poem about Trayvon Martin called “Skittles and Iced Tea: A Poem for Tre.

The group then marched down Nassau Street, stopping at Palmer Square and then continuing all the way to Vandeventer Avenue. The protesters then lay on the ground along Nassau Street for 4½ minutes to symbolize the 4½ hours that the body of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was left in the street in Ferguson, Mo. after he was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson.

The Association of Black Seminarians and the Community Action Network led the protest, which was endorsed by the president of the seminary. The groups have called for a time of prayer and action.

“Our faith compels us to declare that all lives have value,” said Jacqueline Nelson, a Princeton Seminary student and moderator of the Association of Black Seminarians. “Regardless of our background, color and social status, we as a church must stand on the side of justice for all and proclaim that enough is enough. We will no longer tolerate racist and oppressive systems.”

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • usedtobeconservative

    “No Justice, No Peace” = “Do What I Want . . . or Else.”

  • Peter

    Agree.
    There is no excuse for the use of excessive force….except if you are scared or not trained well.

  • Shayne,Maxx

    Is horrifying that there are people like TopperSmith who would focus on Ms. Janice Smith Ammon’s grammar rather than invest the energy in the context of her speech. I personally find it appalling that this person has an instinctually antagonistic response as well as the gall to post it here.
    They should feel embarrassed yet they probably don’t. I’m imagining that it’s people like TopperSmith who think with such shallow depth that perpetuate the problem with racial inequality as well as dysfunctional social, judicial and legislative policies in this country.
    To zero in on the use of grammar in itself suggest to a negative stereotypical view of Blacks. There is absolutely no doubt that TopperSmith lacks the sensitivity towards the specific point that these peacefully rallies conducted by educated people of all color (not street mobs) are trying to relay.
    Only a person bothered by the peaceful protest taking place would immediately attack a grammatical error period. There’s no excuse for the use of excessive force.

  • TopperSmith

    Okay, sure, I will definitely engage in a discussion based on reason and facts. In response to argument #1 (the racism argument that seems to be motivating most of the marchers), you are missing a central fact that these black men were profiled and confronted because they were committing crimes. A problem that they made worse when they committed a second crime of resisting arrest. Would you feel better if we passed reforms that only allowed black police officers to arrest (and possibly shoot) black criminals in the name of avoiding any subsequent charge of racism? Or, rather, should we reduce active policing and become more tolerant of criminal activity to achieve that same purpose? If so, you should come right out and say that this is really about having a problem with the active enforcement of the law, which obviously falls heavily on blacks since they commit a disproportionate amount of the crime. As for your argument #2- you actually make two points: that police misconduct is a justice issue and gang violence is not. On the former, I completely agree. I am no fan of thuggish police behavior. But let us allow the justice system to sort that out, not the raging emotions of the street mob. As for the latter point, I am not sure the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers of the thousands of blacks that die each year from gang violence would agree that there is not a failure of justice involved.

  • Karl

    Thanks for interacting with the issue—this is a much more constructive comment than your last one, and I’m grateful for the dialogue. It seems like your argument has two major points:

    1) There is no epidemic of police killing people of color—the evidence simply isn’t there.

    2) Since Black lives do matter, it would be better to focus on gang violence, since that’s where more lives are lost.

    Is this a fair summary? If so, here’s my response…

    1) Are you married? If so, you probably know that when you fight with your spouse, the issue that causes the fight is very rarely the issue you’re actually fighting about. Such is the case here. Sure, Eric Garner and Michael Brown are not perfect people—perhaps they even deserved jail time. But the real complaint is that all too often, Blacks are singled out and profiled for no reason other than that they are Black. Not being Black myself, I’ll let others speak to this—there are several similar stories to these just a Google search away.

    http://gawker.com/my-vassar-college-faculty-id-makes-everything-ok-1664133077

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/12/05/the-day-i-used-eric-garner-s-voice.html

    2) Gang violence is a real issue which needs to be confronted. I agree with you there. However, police are employed to serve and protect, and because of that, they are given rights and power others don’t have, along with protection under the law. Therefore, police misconduct becomes a justice issue in a way gang violence is not.

    I’ll end with a final link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/04/opinion/charles-blow-first-michael-brown-now-eric-garner.html?_r=0

  • TopperSmith

    I think most clear thinkers realize that a critique of the content would be superfluous. Because most people know that there is no epidemic of police killing people of color. The statistics simply do not support that contention, in a country of 300mm with so many dangerous and crime- infested neighborhoods into which we send our police to provide calm and protect the law-abiding. If the point of the march is that black lives matter, why celebrate a notorious thug who committed three crimes immediately before charging a police officer? Why not focus on the epidemic of black deaths resulting from gang violence? I pray that reason will conquer senselessness and that the energies of your march will be channeled to a more worthy purpose, so that we can truly live the meaning of your chant that black lives matter.

  • Karl

    Critiquing grammar instead of content is juvenile. Clearly the meaning was conveyed, so either interact with what you (correctly) understood the meaning to be or don’t, but please don’t distract from the important conversation that is taking place here with a pretentious remark about grammar.

  • TopperSmith

    Janice Smith Ammon should spend a little more time prepping her grammar before venturing out to lecture the public. “A despairing time,” would imply that time is in despair. Try, “a time of despair,” perhaps, if that is what she means. “Further along,” would be the usage when describing progress metaphorically. “Farther along” describes a physical movement in space.

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