“We can’t breathe.”
This chant has not only been heard on the streets of every major city in America, but upon the streets of Dobbs Ferry, when a protest took place on Wednesday, Dec. 10 at 4 p.m. Around 30 to 40 high school students with their parents marched up and down Main Street, chanting slogans such as “We can’t breathe” and “Whose streets? Our streets!”
The same chant was heard on the Mercy College campus when members of a local organization organized a similar event.
This past past weekend, nearly 25,000 people marched in Manhattan with signs, chants, and high tensions.
These repetitive cries of disapproval pay homage to the final words uttered by the late Eric Garner who was tackled, put in a headlock and suffocated by numerous policemen. Garner was a larger set man who also suffered from asthma, elements that may have increased his chance of asphyxiation.
While the public may never know all the underlying details of the recent controversial killings involving young black men and police, the ambiguity has provoked people to take the streets in protest.
Garner and Michael Brown have stolen the eyes of America over the past month. Their stories have touched the hearts of millions of people and stirred controversy across the nation. Both men were killed by police, both men were African-American, both were unarmed and in both cases – the correlating officers were set free—leaving many in America only to question police authority and to reconsider the justice system.
Mercy College’s Caribbean Students Association held their own event from 1-4 p.m. in front of the Lecture Hall, holding up “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” signs and educating the students and faculty why everyone should stand together and get involved.
Deja Walker and Mark Brantly, the two students in charge of CSA, are very proud of the turnout of their protests.
Walker, a senior and criminal justice major, accredits her god sister, who participated in some of the larger protests throughout Manhattan last week. Walker also firmly stated that she would be open minded to participate in a protest of a larger scale as well.
“I thought it would be an interesting way to get the whole campus involved,” she explained.
The CSA has plans on planning and promoting another protest, and possibly a march, so more students can become involved.
“I think our protest was successful, but we want to expand on it. We would also like to plan a march at Mercy College,” Brantly, a junior and health service management major, stated.
Three recent events have sparked a nationwide cry against supposed police brutality and an accused judicial system which protects police officers accused of unnecessary deadly force to subdue a suspect.
The first incident was the shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri by Officer Darren Wilson. The exact details of the situation have been disputed, but most reports state that Brown was walking down the middle of a street with his friend when he was told by Wilson in his vehicle to move to the sidewalk. It has been debated as to why, but a struggle ensued, and at least one round was discharged by Wilson’s firearm. Brown fled and Wilson pursued. More shots were fired, possibly 12, with at least seven hitting Brown. Brown supporters claim he raised his arms and surrendered. Police supporters say Brown was aggressive and confronted the police officer.
On Nov. 24, a Grand Jury did not choose to indict Wilson for his actions. Tensions were already high in Ferguson, as for months civilians and police have been at odds with each other during non-violent protests. The court’s decision resulted in rioting and at least one civilian, a 20 year-old, to be killed in the riot. Wilson has since resigned from the police force citing security issues to himself and his fellow officers.
A second incident involved a New York police officer choking a man while trying to subdue him. Eric Garner, 43, died in July after he was confronted by several Staten Island police officers for selling loose cigarettes. The 350 lb. pleaded his case to officers and asked for them not to touch him. A video shows an officer from behind putting Garner in a choke hold as the pair fell to the sidewalk. Garner repeated, “I can’t breathe” multiple times on the video.
In August, the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office released a statement, issuing the police officer’s choke responsible for the man’s death, and not obesity or asthma. The death was ruled a homicide. The statement read that the death was “caused by compression of neck compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.”
A homicide ruling does not translate to murder or wrongful death, it merely states that suicide and health ailments were not the cause of death.
On Dec. 3, a Grand Jury decided not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo.
The third incident occurred when Tamir Rice, a 12 year-old, was shot and killed by police for brandishing an authentic looking fake pistol on Nov. 22. The medical examiner ruled this killing a homicide, and the family has filed a lawsuit against the Cleveland Police Department for the killing.
Rice is seen on a security camera video walking on a sidewalk and gripping the toy weapon. Witnesses called 9-1-1 and reported the situation, stating that the boy was pointing the weapon at people but it was likely fake. A recording shows that the dispatcher left out the information to the responding officers that the witness believed the gun to be fake. The video shows Officer Timothy Loehmann shooting Rice two seconds after responding to the incident. Police statements claim the boy reached for the gun and removed the orange tip, which indicates the gun is a pellet gun.
A recent poll conducted by CBS News stated that 80 percent of whites surveyed feel that police make them safe, but those numbers dropped to around 50 percent for blacks. Nearly the same amount of blacks say that police make them feel anxious, while only 18 percent of whites answered the same way. Nearly 60 percent of whites polled feel that race doesn’t matter when police use deadly force, a number that drops to 10 percent for blacks.
The poll was nearly even when surveying Americans in whether they were pleased or angered by the Wilson decision of no indictment by the Grand Jury, 50-50. Yet the polling shows that white and blacks were much more critical of the Eric Garner decision. Only 23 percent of whites said they were pleased with that ruling. The numbers of whether force was justified in that incident shrink even more – 14 percent of whites and three percent of blacks felt force was justified.
Fifty percent of black women and 66 percent of black men feel they have been racially profiled by police. Nearly 60 percent of Americans feel that police officer training for dealing with civilians needs to improve.
President Obama declared on Dec. 1 that the government will spend nearly $75 million in equipping on-duty officers with body cameras. The poll states that 91 percent of Americans support the decision.
Tamar Zamor was present at the CSA’s “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” event for awareness this past week. Although she believes that this event was greatly important for Mercy students to see, she feels that there can definitely be more efforts from the student body.
“I see a lot of schools having protests where the students are very much involved with what’s happening in the world right now. I feel like some Mercy students are just in and out. They don’t take the time to get to know each other let alone protest for a good cause, not even for a moment of silence,” she explained.
The protest in Dobbs Ferry and on campus has inspired a lot of students. Kevin Middleton, an English major and senior, is just one of the many Mercy College students ready to stand up for what they believe in.
“I think that it’s historic. I think we’re living in historic times and history is repeating itself for the better. We’re becoming more unified as a human race and standing up for what’s right and equality,” he stated.
Although he didn’t know that there was a protest going on at the time, Middleton believes that if another protest comes around, he’ll be the first to join it. He made his views clear by stating that standing up for one’s rights and equality is completely justified.
“I would join a protest here because I think human life is important and should be valued, and anything that goes against it should be frowned upon.”
Many students are eager to join a protest and encourage those that are already protesting.
“I think that it’s right that people express their views through a protest, as long as it’s peaceful,” stated education major and graduate student Brianna.
Other Mercy students seem to be more understanding of the police, who pride themselves on the mantra of “serve and protect”. Senior Justin Dragonetti, a senior and criminal justice major, is one of those students.
Dragonetti watched the protest in Dobbs Ferry from his apartment, stating there was both white and black students marching and holding protest signs with the peace symbols and slogans such as #ProtestinDobbs.
While he states that he understands where the protesters are coming from and sympathizes, Dragonetti feels some have been disrespectful to the police officers who do their jobs on a daily basis and risk their lives for the freedoms that Americans have.
Recent protests at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice comparing police officers to the Ku Klux Klan highly offended Dragonetti.
“My father was a New York City police officer for 26 years. Those types of allegations are unfounded and outrageous,” explained Dragonetti.
Dragonetti is following in his father’s footsteps, as he is studying to become a police officer. He believes that the reason there is a big disconnection from the police and the community right now is because of media bias toward police officers.
“The public doesn’t understand police protocol. If an officer’s life is in danger or someone they are attempting to protect is at risk, they can take someone’s life in the process.”
He feels that Officer Darren Wilson, the man who shot and killed Mike Brown, acted accordingly. But, he understands that some police officers can go overboard.
“Some do. Most don’t. We have a great system but unfortunately there are loopholes,” he said. “This is the best we can do. If there was a perfect system, we’d already have it.”
A lot of people feel that many people who are protesting are bandwagoners; people who just follow the crowd without knowing the real facts. Freshman and music technology major Alejandra feels that many protesters are just following what they hear on social media and aren’t reading or watching the news to find out what is really going on.
“People aren’t educating themselves and exposing themselves to the bigger picture to know what’s really going on. Before anyone protests, they should know the facts as best they can.”
Despite the differences of opinions everyone has about these protests, it’s clear that the student body does care about the ongoing protests and will do anything to get involved. Vet Technology major and freshman Chantal understands the anger people feel toward the police and government, and encourages protests and understands the act of rioting.
“I think there is a lot of anger that has been built up and it needs to be let out. People have rioted for less important things, and someone’s life is worth rioting over. It’s very much needed.”