Students Protest Non-Indictment Of Ferguson Police Officer

Photo by Sarah Eames.

When midnight struck and the date changed to Tuesday, Nov. 25, about 100 SUNY New Paltz students assembled behind Deyo Hall and marched to the University Police Department (UPD) in a state of tangible agitation.

Students chanted “Black Nation on the rise, we gotta educate, agitate, organize”, “Hands Up, don’t shoot”, “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud” and “No justice, Mike Brown.”

The protest was formed in response of the St. Louis grand jury’s decision on Nov. 24 not to indict Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old unarmed black teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

Brown’s death caused both peaceful and violent protests, looting and vandalism to take place in Ferguson that have continued since the shooting.

The student protests would be followed by other events on the topic the next week.

The protest was organized by second-year psychology and Black Studies double major Rookie Reynoso, fourth-year sociology major Diana Metz, fourth-year political science major Krys Vargas and fourth-year Black Studies and international relations major Manny Tejada.

About 60 students met prior to midnight in the Student Association (SA) office to assign people to take pictures, videotape, be mediators if the police got involved, inform people of their rights and to make signs.

“We knew as a collective unit that we had to do this organized and smart,” Metz said.

After about an hour chanting at UPD, the students marched, now with about 200 people, to the Student Union Building (SUB) Concourse.

Here, members of New Paltz’s Urban Lyrics club performed pieces written to resonate with the night’s events.

Throughout the rally, numerous 45-second moments of silence were held in tribute to the 4.5 hours Brown’s body was left on the ground after his death.

At about 1:15 a.m. students marched to New Paltz Justice Court from the SUB concourse, in symbolic protest of the courthouse that Brown’s killer was not indicted in, according to Tejada.

“We have to understand that what’s happening here and across the country is young men and women of color who are being wrongfully accused, convicted and are victims of our justice system,” Tejada said. “We have to understand that we are not disconnected. We live in a society where we believe we are disconnected from everything going on around us and we shouldn’t come together as one.”

The rally concluded at 2:30 a.m., with about 300 people holding hands and taking one last 45-second moment of silence in front of College and Shango Hall by the Margaret Wade-Lewis tree. Wade-Lewis helped start SUNY New Paltz’s Black Studies program in 1969.

UPD officers and New Paltz Town Police followed and observed the students in police cruisers for the majority of the protest, but did not interfere.

Reynoso said seeing about 300 students come together shows that students do have power.

“We were all different, representing different organizations on campus but coming together because we felt the same way about a particular issue. That was truly beautiful to me,” Reynoso said.

After Thanksgiving break, the protest was followed up with the event, “Hands up, walk out” where about 100 students and faculty walked out of class on Monday, Dec. 1 at 1:01 p.m. and went to the Shango Quad for student-led discussions and performances from Urban lyrics members. The event opened and closed with 45-seconds of silence.

Fourth-year political science major Jordan Taylor, said the walk out was planned at New Paltz on the evening of Sunday, Nov. 30 as part of the national protest to walk out of classes and work at 1:01 p.m. EST, the time Brown was shot.

Second-year public relations major Samantha Pagan spoke at the walk out about her experience participating in the protests in New York City on Tuesday, Nov. 25. She said seeing a man with a baby on his back screaming “No justice, no peace” was one of the most interesting and influential things she has ever seen.

Pagan also said that people across the world are connected and have people’s backs because of the common link they share of protesting the Ferguson ruling.

Taylor said a lot of people of color receive a talk from their parents about how to interact with police.

“Be mild mannered, be kind, be less than human, be three-fifths when interacting with police,” Taylor said. “We shouldn’t have to do that or deal with that simply because we want to live.”

Taylor also said since 2001 the black student population on campus has decreased from 12 to five percent.  He said there is a lot of racial segregation at New Paltz because of black people from New York City and white people from Long Island and upstate who don’t know how to interact with each other.

Noreli Norena, a fifth-year international relations and Latin studies double major, said it’s important for people to keep the conversations regarding Ferguson going, so the momentum doesn’t stop and people become informed.

Fifth-year business management major Peter Raup-Kounoysky said it’s important to continue educating people on issues taking place in society.

“I don’t want to grow up and have children who are living in a world of fear and propaganda in which it’s okay to label people and to be prejudice,” he said.

On Tuesday, Dec. 2, in response to the non-indictment and the initial protest, a public discussion titled “Ferguson, Brown, Wilson and the Aftermath: Disciplinary Conversatons on Race and Policing” led by Black Studies associate professor Karanja Keita Carroll, sociology professor Alexandra Cox and sociology professor Roberto Velez-Velez was held in the Coykendall Science Building auditorium.

Carroll said this public discussion idea stemmed from conversations he has had with Cox and Velez-Velez via text and email and thought it would be good for the campus to have an open dialogue about race and policing.

Carroll said the idea of the public discussion was to start the talk, not solve anything and to keep the conversations going regarding race and policing.

He also said it’s important for students to find allies when going through conflict who will support them and recommended those allies be New Paltz faculty.

Cox said the criminal justice system is a human system where human beings make decisions based on their beliefs and ideologies. She said it’s not an objective system and is shaped by gender, race and class.

Velez-Velez said what the campus is doing now is a “moment towards a movement.”

“No social change in the United States has happened without having youth behind it,” Velez-Velez said. “Change is about time and future time. Mobilize because this is your time. Students have a very long history of doing it.”

Going forward, Carroll said he’s hoping there will be more public discussions led by faculty and he expects the students to keep the conversations going.

Overall, Tejada said after the sad feelings on the night of the non-indictment, the unity the campus has shown is something that amazed him.

“I’m shell-shocked,” he said. “I’m a fourth-year student and this of one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. Seeing not only the people of color come out, but having the white folk come out and unify us as a campus.”