After Non-Indictment Students Rally, Demanding Accountability and Change
By Jeremy L. Pasker
Students and Associate professors, alongside heads of Academic Departments staged what organizers labeled a “speak-out” around the Fountain behind 1P in response to limited activity on campus following the non-indictment of the officer responsible for Eric Garner’s death.
Administration denied professor requests to send out a mass email to everyone on campus so circulating notice was done manually the day of, through word of mouth, and then on the spot picketing gathered the rest.
By the time the sun went down around 6:30, some two hours after the action started, the crowd had grown to 45 people or so.
Not permitted to garnish signs attached to wooden handles, they held each one above their heads manually while chanting and motioning for others to swell their ranks.
“We’re [going to] do this for awhile so people have a place to express their opinion,” said the Chair of the Performing and Creative Arts department George Emilio Sanchez, while he held up a sign which read, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice Everywhere.”
Jay Arena, an associate Sociology professor, directed the demonstration and focus of the protest, motivating students to speak on their thoughts and concerns regarding police brutality victims. He maintained cohesion and facilitated progress in between each speaker, acknowledging the significance of demonstrations like these.
“Manhattan was burning and everyone [at CSI] was here sleeping,” yelled Nelly Tournaki, a professor from the School of Education. She admitted to being embarrassed after not seeing immediate solidarity efforts from the campus named after the home of Eric Garner. “We have to be a community.”
Ruth Wangerin, a professor of Sociology and Anthropology originally from St. Louis, wasn’t surprised by the non-indictment. She reasons the passing of time but not the passing of racial prejudice to “White Denial.”
“I’m really tired of this country not dealing,” she expressed as her arms raised a sign with the words, “Restore justice – and for all this time. “We would have thought things would have gotten better by now.”
Now a student at the CUNY Graduate Center, but also an alumna of CSI’s Poli Sci Department, Elizabeth Davis was one of the many student demonstrators to speak out of concern for the growing mistreatment of people of color in front of the semi circle forming behind the Performing Arts Building, encouraging everyone to “do more,” “do something,” and “do anything.”
Davis explained on the chilly December 4 afternoon that although the treatment of brown men and women by a majority White police force is indeed a race issue, expressing that everyone be careful not to generalize their energy, emotions, and blame but instead focus that pent up rage at the people and institutions responsible.
“You can’t hate every white person,” she yelled, “ [just] because it’s a race issue. We must [all] work together.”
Davis then drew parallels between today’s increased number of disparities across segregated racial attitudes and the Civil Rights movements from the 60s.
“I’m not sorry if I seem angry but I’m pissed,” she lamented, referencing the dangers her future children will endure growing up in America. “We are the next civil rights movement. No one will stop us if it happens everywhere.”
The crowd followed suit with a cathartic chant, “We are the next Civil Rights movement”, over and over in succession.
“Because black lives matter, period,” Queens native and college Senior Jane Johnson insisted were her reasons for participating in direct action. “And the Justice System needs to stop killing people.”
“This is a nonviolent human rights issue [so] we have to light fire under some asses,” another student and Bronx native Tiffany Fergson, impassionedly expressed to onlookers. “They can no longer hide behind their badges. [They] work to be police officers [but] we are all born a human.
Then there were the speakers involved who urged listeners to share empathy with the family that Eric Garner left behind.
“A daughter just lost her father,” Alvin Dan, a Music major and Senior, repeated twice, describing his first reaction to hearing of Garner’s death as primal. “They say we live in a post racial society. Clearly, that’s bullshit.”
While others considered that there still is a need to reach a higher level of action to further along the push for change.
“Many people [are] getting away with murder,” Krystal Railford-Sanchez said fervently to, by that point, an overly earnest audience. “This is about human rights, and compassion, and caring.”
The sophomore and Sociology student continued her address by appealing for the crowd on hand to heed the action of past social and political movements.
“Generations before us did something,” she began, “so we need to stand up and do something.”