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.”