Here’s a feature article I wrote about the York Protest! I also took really cool snapshots from my Iphone!
The sound of a chattering crowd echoed throughout the York College Atrium. A sea of faces, all different races and ethnicities stood side by side creating a circle stretching from the college’s Starbucks to the indoor Guy R Brewer security desk. Children, adults, students and faculty members remained rallied holding signs and began chanting and counting. “I can’t breathe! One! I can’t breathe! Two! I can’t breathe! Three!” The crowd continued to chant until they reached the eleventh chant.
A young man stood at the center of the atrium dressed in all black and a microphone in his hand. You could barely see his face because he left the hood of his sweater over his head the entire time as he addressed the crowd. He broke the chanting when he said, “We’re all going to participate in a Die-in shortly, but when we go outside I want all of you to keep repeating hands up don’t shoot with your hands in the air.”
On December 15, 2014, York College students participated in a “Die-in” protest fueled by grand jury decisions made in Staten Island for Eric Garners case, and in Ferguson Missouri for Michael Brown’s case. At 11:30 a.m. Roberto Brutus, the President of the African American Studies Club at York not only organized the protest, but he lead the way. He rallied between 150 to 200 students in the college’s atrium and lead the crowd into the streets where the four and a half minute demonstration took place.
Alongside Brutus were senator elect, Leroy Comrie, president of the NAACP Jamaica branch, Leroy Gadsden, City councilman, Ruben Wills, and lastly the Reverend of Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church, Bishop Charles Norris Sr. Each individual spoke to the protestors about the issues in legislation today. More so, the activists emphasized the importance of the everyone coming together and the importance of the peoples participation in public demonstrations and protesting.
As the crowd of stood on Guy R Brewer Boulevard just outside the entrance to the York Campus chanting “Hands up don’t shoot,” the City Councilman Ruben Wills was first to address everyone. He stood tall, in a well tailored suit and long pea coat with his feet about shoulder length apart. The sound of Wills’ voice immediately silenced the crowd as he began to discuss the issues.
He spoke to the crowd making gestures with his right hand but his left hand stayed at his side balled up into a fist the entire time. In his left fist, Wills clenched a black t-shirt with the words “I can’t breathe” printed on. “The same people that shut bridges down all across the nation. It was you, the young people that fueled all of this. Our job is to make sure we direct it… Our job is to make sure that we push the legislation,” said councilman Wills. He then gave the floor to Brutus, who thanked everyone sincerely for their participation and continued.
In a face to face interview, Roberto Brutus, the president of the African American Studies Club at York said, “It could’ve been me, it could’ve been my father, it could’ve been my uncle, it could’ve been my cousin and this right here, this is what we need to do.” Brutus explains that without the protesting we loose momentum. In order to be successful the demonstrations need to continue and so he urged York Students to keep going and to continue to be bold enough to stand up for the cause. “We need to continue to unite in solidarity and bring awareness to our communities and let the government know that enough is enough without one more” said Brutus.
Right after Brutus spoke, a York College Faculty member in the crowd clenched her fist in the air. The widely recognized salute otherwise known as the “Black Power” salute was used often by the Black Panthers in the 60s. Katara Jones, a protestor and CUNY graduate of Psychology and Sociology said, “The symbol represents unity, strength, defiance, or resistance. It can also represent black nationalism and socialism.” Jones raised her fist repeatedly chanting, “Black lives matter!”
Both senator elect Leroy Comrie, and the president of the local NAACP branch, Leroy Gadsden built on the emotion and the moral of the protesters. Comrie had a more calm approach while Gadsden was more firm as he openly referred to each death as murder by the hands of police. Gadsden stood in the center of the crowd shouting, “There must be some new laws, there must be some accountability! Where is the justice? So don’t you get tired!” As he continued to speak the crowd grew more and more vocal and involved by replying, “that’s right.” Gadsden discussed plans to go to Albany in attempts to change laws and bill city hall to remove “murderers” off the payroll.
Reverend Norris Sr. provided the protestors with statistical data. According to a survey of 50 York College student protestors, only 11 knew of cases other than Sean Bell, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. A majority of the students were unaware of how often people die by the hands of police officers. Reverend Norris Sr. was able to inform students that incidents like this happen quite often in his explanation of why the protesting is important.
Norris Sr. said, “I have a list in my hand of 67 people who have been killed from 1999 to 2014 by law officers. Beginning with Amadou Diallo in 1999 to Eric Garner July 17, 2014. We have to stop this stuff… 18 on this list were killed by the New York Police Department.” The reverend urged that every chance presented students, elected officials, and clergy members need to come together, unite and protest to make change.
The actual “Die-in” lasted four and a half minutes to symbolize the four and a half hours Brown was left on the ground in Missouri. students marched into the street of Guy R Brewer with their hands in the air and began to sit and lay down one by one. One after the other students, faculty and citizens participated until half of the street was covered. As the cars and busses rode by they honked in support of the protesting and few people shouted through their car windows. While on the ground everyone chanted, “black lives matter,” and “I can’t breathe.”
For the final minutes of the protest an overwhelming silence came about while every protestor paid respects to all those killed. A baby participating in the die-in laid on her mothers chest. Just as the silence came about she removed her pacifier and began to scream while tears ran down her face. The protesting mother remained silent and still until the four and a half minutes were up. As the protest came to an end, everyone stood up making sure to keep their hands in the air.
York students had a lot to say about the protesting. Swataner Polce, a Political Science major at York College said, “I’m really passionate about the things I believe in, and things like this matter. It’s so important for us to come together because it truly makes a difference. We have to continue because we need this.” Lots of students emphasized the fact that York Students don’t usually get involved as much as they should.
For many, this was the first protest they ever heard about taking place at York College. Chereese Sheen, a Journalism Major said, “This protest is a first for me. I’m surprised this many people at the school actually care, and I wanted to make sure I was here to capture it all.”
This was my first protest ever, and the first i’ve seen at York. Naybe our generation does care after all.