Hundreds of Rutgers students, protesters react to Ferguson verdict
More than 450 students marched from Douglass Student Center to the steps of Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus in response to the recent verdict in Ferguson, Missouri that did not indict police officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown.
The decision led to protests around the country, including Ferguson, where some protestors set fire to shops and looted businesses, and police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, CNN reported.
Throughout the protest, participants shouted chants, such as “Justice for Michael Brown” and “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Killer cops have got to go!” Protesters distributed flyers featuring Officer Darren Wilson’s face among the crowd.
The People's Coalition Against Police Brutality, a coalition of students and New Brunswick residents dedicated to ending police brutality, organized the march to raise awareness of institutionalized racism in police departments throughout the country. The Rutgers chapter of the NAACP, Black Men’s Collective, Black Student Union, Douglass Black Student Congress and United Black Council were among the student groups that helped organize the march.
Ezra Sholom, a student organizer, said the groups hoped that marching through the community, rather than standing in protest, would raise consciousness of police brutality.
“Police brutality did not start in August when Ferguson happened,” Shalom said. “We can no longer stand idly by while the police murder unarmed citizens.”
Standing on the steps of Brower Commons, the School of Arts and Sciences junior told the crowd that they cannot end police brutality by showing up to a one-day protest. With increasing pressure, he said communities would see change.
“This battle does not end when we all go home for Thanksgiving or winter break,” he said. “It is a struggle we need to take on every day of our lives.”
He reminded onlookers of the enormity of the protests that broke out across the country after the announcement of the verdict, with New York City shutting down three bridges and Los Angeles closing a main highway system for miles.
“If the country continues to stand together, we can put an end to this racist system,” he said.
Kaila Boulware, a student organizer, took the megaphone to discuss past cases of police brutality in New Brunswick.
New Brunswick police officer James Consalvo shot New Brunswick resident Carolyn Adams to death in 1996, she said, and in 2011, New Brunswick police officer Brad Berdel resigned after shooting and killing unarmed New Brunswick resident Barry Deloatch.
In August, officer Darren Wilson fired six shots into the front of Michael Brown’s body in Ferguson.
Brown’s autopsy report has since yielded that the shots were made in the chest and head. Brown also had marijuana in his blood system.
“These instances don’t only happen elsewhere in the nation, but in New Brunswick,” said Boulware, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “We need to keep this in mind every day.”
Briana Gilchrist, president of United Black Council, put forth several solutions for ending police brutality and creating a safer community in New Brunswick.
It is necessary for the NBPD and RUPD demographics to match the student population, the School of Arts and Sciences senior said
“We want the demographics of the RUPD and NBPD to be published,” Gilchrist said. “If they are here to protect us, then they should at least look like us.”
She said New Brunswick police officers need to build better relationships with the community, scrap the “shoot to kill” ideology and attend anti-bias training classes.
“Why should I be in fear because [a police officer] was told someone was wearing a hoodie walking down the street and ‘looked like a suspect?’” Gilchrist said. “So if a police officer feels in danger because I’m wearing a hoodie, he can shoot me now?”
The New Brunswick Police Department does not include training for “bias crime” beyond state standards set by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, according to an email from Jennifer Bradshaw, public information officer for New Brunswick.
“Our officers are constantly in training for a number of topics, both tactical and community-oriented, to ensure they are able to properly accommodate all members of the community and the issues they may face,” she said.
In New Jersey, more than 1,000 bias crime incidents are reported each year, according to the NJOAG website.
According to the website, law enforcement protocol for bias crimes involves understanding which agencies must receive reports of bias incidents and how to make the reports timely and error free.
This does not include mandatory anti-bias training for law enforcement, Bradshaw said.
Gilchrist emphasized that the protest was nonviolent.
“This is a nonviolent, peaceful protest,” Gilchrist said. “We aren’t anti-police, anti-administration, anti-Rutgers University or anti-anything. We just want to make sure our voices are continually heard and represented.”
Since the protest on Friday, Darren Wilson officially resigned from the Ferguson Police Department, citing his decision as one to “allow the community to heal.”