Schreiber Reacts to Racial Tension

Seniors+Denise+Hidalgo+and+Mirian+Molina+at+the+Millions+March+protest+in+New+York+City.

Seniors Denise Hidalgo and Mirian Molina at the Millions March protest in New York City.

Ana Espinoza, Editor in Chief

Near noon on Aug. 9, 2014, 18-year-old black man Michael Brown was fatally shot by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. The six bullets that left holes in Brown have torn holes in American race relations, American police relations, and the public’s faith in the American justice system.

Weeks before Brown’s death, Eric Garner was accused of selling “loosies,”(single cigarettes without tax stamps) by New York City Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo, who then employed what is considered by some a “headlock” and by others a “chokehold.” This maneuver caused Garner to have a heart attack, which tragically ended his life an hour later. The man had suffered from asthma, obesity, and cardiovascular problems.

These cases and others raised serious concerns about police brutality across the United States. Neither case led to an indictment of the police officer involved, creating a firestorm of protests, the likes of which have not been seen since the Civil Rights Movement. Some demonstrations were peaceful, such as those by Columbia University students in response to the Garner ruling. Other protests were more physical. In Ferguson, Missouri, 11 have been injured and 205 have been arrested.

The United Nations has gotten involved by publishing a study on American police brutality, and inviting Michael Brown’s parents to testify in Geneva. The United Nations’ involvement is a sobering reminder of the grim nature of this conflict. Everyone from Katy Perry to LeBron James has expressed opinions about the matter. These racial tensions will undoubtedly be marked in textbooks.

With this news of riots, rallies, and protests splattered across the media, many Schreiber students cannot help but become engulfed in the unfolding situation. The issues stemming from the Brown and Garner trials have become up close and personal, as many take the initiative to search the Internet for more information regarding the trials. As a result, student reactions vary.

Some students expressed their concern regarding the ambiguity surrounding the Brown testimonials.

“I don’t feel, from what I’ve seen and read, that there was enough evidence on either side to conclusively say what happened,” said senior Kim Winter. “The flaw in our justice system wasn’t that they didn’t indict him. It is that nobody knows what happened.”

Because the two verdicts were revealed within the same month, people have searched for similarities and differences between the two events. Many students are taken aback.

“A nation is its people — all its people,” said senior Olivia Mann. “And if one person that is one part of the nation suffers, so too does the whole.”

Many Schreiber students are passionate about gaining an understanding of the situation, regardless of their own race or ethnicity.

“Obviously the events that transpired are terrifying,” said senior Jesse Epstein.  “And if I feel that way, then it must be so much worse for someone who can relate better to these victims, whether it be due to race or social class.”

With new protests occurring daily, many students find themselves focusing more on the Garner rather than the Brown verdict. Some students have turned their attention toward understanding the protests in New York City.

“There has to be some denial about the continuing racism in our society and law system,” said senior Mia Crowley. “The protests are the best thing that can come out of these two cases. It makes me confident in our society to see how many people are ready to stand up for justice. I hope, since these cops didn’t get punished, that they would never be allowed to forget about the lives they took.”

Others question the validity of police authority.

“I support peaceful protests to better our society; however, I feel that in order to prevent such events from recurring, we need higher standards for police officers,” said sophomore Allison Winter. “We need to feel protected, not endangered. Shouldn’t the people we are willingly giving guns be qualified enough to not endanger citizens?”

Other students believed that protesters have been taking the situation too far.

“I think they are absurd,” said senior Erin McDonough. “I have a few good friends that are police officers in New York City. There are protestors chanting ‘What do we want? Dead cops. When do we want it? Now!’ It is extremely unsettling and nerve-racking hearing that. These people that are protesting don’t understand that the police officers that they want dead are in fact protecting them.”

Some traffic blockages due to the protests have disrupted emergency services. Situations like these have made some students question the necessity of the prolonged protests.

“Well first, I think that they have gotten their point across,” said McDonough. “I think that the fact that they are still protesting, over a week later, is insane. Nothing has changed in the government’s decision, nothing will change it, and the protesting is not going to bring back either Michael Brown or Eric Garner.”

Other students look at the look at the methods of protesting with skepticism. Some have expressed their feelings as the protests being useless with regards to changing the jury’s verdict.

“I understand the feelings of the protesters, and I don’t completely agree with the decision of the cases, so I am not really surprised that the protesters are doing what they are doing,” said junior Gabrielle Sanft. “However, I do not agree with their actions because I do not believe they are effectively accomplishing anything. The same thing could be said about sitting there and doing nothing. But in protesting, the people involved are just making bad names for themselves, and getting nothing out of doing it. The people cannot change the decision of the court.”

Many people, including students, have taken to voicing their opinions online. On Nov. 24, the day that Robert McCulloch, prosecuting attorney, announced that the grand jury would not indict Officer Wilson, the Internet exploded. At 8:30 p.m., the Twitter hashtag #FergusonDecision peaked for the night at 200,000 tweets per half hour. The topic was also trending on Facebook, and protesters from Ferguson and other parts of the country broadcast recordings of the police and other protesters on Vine. Tumblr users were sharing posts that demonstrated their anger and spread information about the events. Many student Internet users shared links to articles and made Facebook posts, and others reported that their feeds were 99% Ferguson-related that night and the following day.

Although Americans have been protesting for civil rights for decades, use of social media has changed the movement. Protests erupted across the country and even the world. In cities like Hong Kong and Mexico City, those who were already protesting their own governments added the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” sign of putting their hands above their heads to their protests. Photos from these protests and American protests alike quickly spread across social media.

Social platforms helped allow more sides of the Ferguson and Garner stories to be told.

“It’s better to learn about politics via social media because there’s broader opinions and a large spectrum of perspectives,” said senior Nikki Sabilia. “Social media shaped everyone’s opinions about Ferguson, which is good and bad. It’s important for people our age to be informed and have an opinion—we’re all going to be voting soon.”

The Brown family’s public statement, in which they called for people to “channel [their] frustration in ways that will make a positive change,” was shared quickly when posted online. Social media platforms also allowed users to organize huge protests in various parts of the nation and find out when and where protests would be happening in their area. One Tumblr blog called “the Ferguson National Response Network” listed events by location and date and allowed users to submit information on protests they were organizing. Pages like this helped gather massive numbers of people together.

“Social media totally changed what I knew because I found that CNN and the like weren’t really showing the Vines and Tumblr posts—lesser known media, I guess—of people who were actually there,” said senior Sarah Sigman.

From not standing for the pledge, to attending protests, to posting about it online, students have gotten involved with the movement. Some of the student body participated in the recent Millions March NYC protest on Dec. 13, along with almost 30,000 other people.

“I found out about the march through Facebook actually. One of my good friends from the city who has been part of the protests since they started posted about it, and it was just an anyone can add themselves and say they’re going kind of group—just a public event,” said senior Pam Hidalgo. “The experience at this march was liberating since, to be quite honest, I had my doubts about going. But the turnout was unbelievable. As you walk down the street to reach Washington Square, you could already hear the chants and just everyone involved. Everyone had a voice, and I began to get goosebumps over the realness of it all, that my friends and I were a part of this, and it was an eye opener.”

At the march, the protesters held signs that displayed many of the popular phrases and hashtags such as “#BlackLivesMatter” and “I Can’t Breathe.” The peaceful protesters chanting about the racism in the police department walked four miles to the NYPD headquarters. Residents of skyscrapers on the route opened their windows and went to their balconies.

One of the younger people at the protest was a Bronx sophomore named Raymond, who discussed how the decision affected him personally.

“I thought that the decision did not affect me,” he said. “But then I realized anybody could be Mike Brown or anybody could be Eric Garner—anybody of any age could be a victim of police brutality.”

While the protests may not bring back Brown or Garner, they certainly could help prevent another unnecessary death. Already since the outset of the protests, President Obama has announced a $263 million program to train and supply police with body cameras.

If students want to get involved, there are opportunities available. They can share posts about events of police brutality from reputable sources, donate to bail and legal funds for those arrested during protests, sign petitions on whitehouse.gov, and call upon elected officials for change using scripts available online.

“I think now, people are understanding this isn’t just about two victims, people are upset with the system, so this is just a step forward to changing the flaws in it,” said Hidalgo.