NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—For the second time in as many weeks, the New Brunswick and Rutgers community will protest in response to a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer for the killing of an unarmed citizen.
New York resident Eric Garner was choked to death by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, in a disturbing incident that was caught on tape this summer and sparked massive protests.
Garner's crime? Selling loose cigarettes on a street corner in Staten Island.
Organized by The People’s Coalition Against Police Brutality, the New Brunswick march will begin at the Douglass Student Center at Rutgers University at 3:30pm.
On November 25, The People’s Coalition held a march that attracted hundreds of people after a St. Louis County grand jury's decision that Officer Darren Wilson, who is responsible for the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, was not incited.
The mission of the coalition is to “organize collectively against police brutality for justice in our communities.”
“We are the voice demanding change within police systems by holding every precinct accountable for their policies and actions," says the organization.
"We aim to end institutionalized racism in police departments throughout the country, which predominantly affect communities of color. As citizens of this country, if one of us suffers we all suffer! We call for all people to join us in our struggle for justice!”
On November 5, the People’s Coalition hosted a meeting to facilitate a conversation about the issue in the Rutgers community, and talk about what can be done to hold police accountable for their actions.
Coalition members discussed the implementation of body cameras on police and facilitating cop-watch trainings to educate people about their rights and interacting with the police.
The group is currently working towards achieving the following goals:
- Transparency between the New Brunswick and Rutgers Police Departments and students by providing information about types of weapons and trainings
- Independent investigation community boards, known as Police Control Boards, that approve hirings and hold police to the same standards as citizens
- Educate citizens about their rights, how to interact with the police, and how to police the police in their community through cop watch trainings
In the past 23 years, there have been several killings at the hands of the New Brunswick Police Department, the most recent being the murder of unarmed 46-year-old New Brunswick resident, Barry Deloatch. Like Garner, and Michael Brown, Deloatch was African-American.
“I’ve also heard of several instances from people within the New Brunswick Community, particularly the Latino community, who have been stopped and frisked, who have been harassed, and who have been racially profiled strictly because of the color of their skin and for no other purpose. People who have no police records. No problems at all, who have been stopped and harassed by New Brunswick Police,” Coalition organizer Ezra Shalom states.
Monet Davis, President of the Rutgers Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), says that the target is not the individual police officers, but the larger system that the police are functioning under, a system that not only is the cause for police violence, but also refrains officers who want to speak up from doing so–what she refers to as the “gang mentality.”
“We aren’t against each individual officers, it’s the system that they are working under. This movement is aimed at uprooting the system of injustice and discrimination that it’s operating under and it brainwashes officers and makes it okay for them to leave people cold in the street, and they aren’t being held accountable as regular civilians,” says Davis.
Sean McJunkins II, Rutgers Africana Studies and Journalism Double Major, shared a personal experience of police brutality that happened to his uncle.
“He owned a vacant lot where he parked his Cadillac and Benz. They thought he either stole the cars or they weren’t his so they broke his collar bone, both hands and a leg. I watched it.”
“I have never felt so hopeless,” said McJunkins. “Like, who do I call to tell on the police? Who can help you when the people who are there to protect you violate your rights? I felt like we were criminals and we hadn’t done anything wrong. Our skin demonized us once again.”
In the case of Eric Garner, during his arrest, he was pinned face-down on the ground by several officers, and was being choked by Officer Pantaleo, while repeating several times “I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”
“I think the Eric Garner case was unfortunate, but a wake up call to the world that there is absolutely something wrong with the justice system, and that race issues exist," said Rutgers junior Jasmine Eaton.
Tens of thousands of people across the nation have been protesting the verdicts of police officers who have been cleared for using excessive force that results in the serious injury, or death, of the individual.
Conservative commentators like Bill O’Reilly have been critical of the protests, even claiming that they, “set back race relations in America years. The violent protests actually created more bias against blacks.”
Eaton disagrees: “I absolutely would not say protesting is pointless, seeing as though protesting is the only thing that’s keeping this movement alive. Also, I’d question the character of one who tells the people to rid themselves of anger and frustration and move on and do nothing.”
Eaton said protestors should set specific goals for what they would like to achieve and be strategic in how they go about protesting to avoid wasting time, energy, and resources.
Nigel Golding, President of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated at Rutgers, and member of the People’s Coalition echoes Eaton’s thoughts by saying, “The importance of protesting is to raise awareness of this issue and show people you have a voice. You have power. Use it. Make a change.”
Daniel Bellido, of the People’s Coalition, also defended the protest movement, which he sees as forward-looking: “This is an investment in the future of our people. You can never be too ready. We are a reactive society, but we need to be more proactive.”
Editor's Note: The second photo in this article was taken by Korinna Assing.