Protests highlight racial divides


Claire Grunewald

Protesters chant and lie down in the center of the Towson Town Center on Dec. 20. Across the country, protesters have spoken up against the recently publicized violence and police brutality shown against African Americans.

Two controversial grand jury decisions have sparked riots and protests across the country. These incidents both involve the deaths of two black males at the hands of white police officers. The first to catch headlines occurred in Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 9. Unarmed 18 year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. The second incident occurred in New York City on Jul 17. Eric Garner, 43 years of age, was killed as a result of a chokehold he was put in by police officer Daniel Pantaleo.

Accusations have been made that these incidents were racially motivated and that the justice system is unfair because of the failure to bring the people responsible for the deaths of these two black men to trial.

In Ferguson, Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson were caught on camera pushing a convenience store clerk and then stealing a pack of cigarettes. They then proceeded to walk down the middle of the street to Johnson’s residence.

Wilson, responding to another call, was in his squad car, and he told them to get out of the middle of the street. According to Wilson, he tried to get out of his car, but Brown pushed him back into the car and then slammed the door. Opposingly, Johnson says that Wilson opened his door and slammed it into Brown. The door then closed as a result of it bouncing off Brown.

Wilson then says that Brown rushed him. Brown fought for Wilson’s gun and in the struggle a shot was fired inside the police car. Brown and Johnson then started to flee and got about 35 feet away before Wilson yelled freeze, and they turned. Brown, after yelling, “Oh, what are you going to do about it? You’re not gonna shoot me,” started to rush Wilson. Wilson opened fire and hit Brown several times, however Brown kept coming at Wilson. Brown was finally shot in the forehead, which killed him instantly, about three feet from Wilson.

Johnson, however, says that they had put their hands up in surrender, and the officer then shot and killed Brown.

"This must stop," yells a protester to the Missouri National Guard who were posted outside the Ferguson Police Station on Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014. Gov. Nixon has been criticized for the timing of their arrival. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)
“This must stop,” yells a protester to the Missouri National Guard who were posted outside the Ferguson Police Station on Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014. Gov. Nixon has been criticized for the timing of their arrival. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Ballistic evidence pointed to support Wilson’s account of what happened. Also, more than half a dozen witnesses support Wilson’s side of the story, according the Washington Post. However, despite this, protests still continue.

Protests have spread around the country, furthered by a grand jury’s decision to not indict Wilson on Nov. 24. Protesters in Los Angeles blocked a major highway, while protesters in Baltimore gathered at the lighting of the Washington Monument on Dec. 5. The protests have spurred the phrases, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “Black Lives Matter.” On Nov. 30, five St. Louis Rams players came onto the field with their hands up, protesting the decision.

One student reacted by saying, “I’m strongly against police brutality and the fact policemen can use their guns to end someone’s life unlawfully without trial, however, destroying an entire town in protest does not accomplish what these people are trying to achieve,” senior Nikki Ishak said.

The other incident occurred when Garner was being arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes. He was then tackled by officers while resisting arrest and put in a headlock by Pantaleo. There is a video showing the incident and Garner can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe,” several times. He was taken to a hospital where he died an hour later. The coroner ruled the death a homicide caused by the headlock he was put in. New York City prohibits police officers from using headlocks.

On Dec. 3 a grand jury in New York decided not to indict Pantaleo, causing further unrest.

On Dec. 8, Cleveland Cavaliers players Lebron James and Kyrie Irving wore shirts saying, “I can’t breathe,” Garner’s last words, to a pre game warm-up in Brooklyn.

“I think it’s really important that we show our respect to the families. More importantly we’re in the city where tragedy happened and it’s really important to us that we stand up for a cause, especially this one. It hits close to home and means a lot to me,” Irving said to ESPN.

On Dec. 11 congressional staffers walked out of their jobs on Capitol Hill to protest the Brown and Garner decision. “Democrats and Republicans across the country are incredibly frustrated by what happened in Ferguson, Staten Island, and elsewhere, and this protest reflects the mistrust they have in the integrity of the criminal justice system,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, said in an article from NBC.

On Dec. 20 a gunman shot and killed two New York City Police Officers saying he was seeking revenge for Garner and Brown. They were shot in the head by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a 28 year old African American male.

Many are blaming New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for the killings. The mayor was already angering police by supporting the protesters. Last week several officers sent a petition to the mayor telling him not to attend their funeral if they were killed in the line of duty. De Blasio said the killings were inevitable because the protestors wanted to, “take out a cop for Eric Garner.” Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said that de Blasio has, “Blood on his hands.”

Social Justice teacher Michelle Sullivan reacted by saying, “My primary reaction has be that we have a lot of unrest. It’s not as much about the decision, it’s more about we have a lot of work to do. Also, our leaders are working in a healing matter. There is sometimes rhetoric that is not productive. It is often lost that two lives have been lost, and others are forever changed. Even though it points to a larger issue, there are still individuals at the heart of it”

There has been violence and protests as a result of these incidents, and there is no clear end in sight. There is a fundamental distrust of the judicial system. There are still prevalent racial divides. These incidents highlight those factors.

Justin Hawkins is an Opinion Editor for The Patriot and