Lack of grand jury indictments in Ferguson, Staten Island sparks rally at SU

Call-and-response chants rang out in front of Hendricks Chapel at 2 p.m. on Friday.

Freezing temperatures, some flurries and even SUNY-ESF’s graduation ceremony could not stop a group of Syracuse University students from making their voices heard on Friday. Nearly 50 students, representing a variety of races and ethnicities, gathered in front of Hendricks Chapel at 2 p.m.  to protest the lack of grand jury indictments in recent police officer brutality cases.

Most recently, a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict a New York police officer who in July initiated a chokehold on Eric Garner, an unarmed black man. Garner died later that day, and his death has been ruled a homicide. The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, was white, and the chokehold method he used to detain Garner has been banned by the New York Police Department for more than 20 years.

This decision, made Wednesday, ignited nationwide protests and riots, much like those following a St. Louis grand jury’s decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown.

Those at SU joined these protests with their own rally, led by both black and white students. Those involved held signs saying: “Who’s next?,” “The killer cops walk” and “We want justice.”

Call-and-response chants echoed throughout the Quad on Syracuse’s campus for nearly 45 minutes. Those chants included:

  • “From Syracuse to Ferguson, black lives matter.”
  • “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
  • “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.”
  • “I had a dream.”
  • “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now. If we don’t get it, shut it down.”

    Speakers at the rally emphasized that their cause is not focused on individual cases of racism, but on the institutionalized racism that they say recent grand jury indictments emphasize. Psychology senior Colton Jones, one of the rally’s organizers, recited a poem titled “I Can’t Breathe.” The poem was written by Representative Hank Johnson, of Georgia, who shared his words in front of Congress this week. It draws on Eric Garner’s last words, before he went into cardiac arrest, which were caught on video during his deadly encounter with police.

    Following Jones’ recitation of the poem, students started chanting, “We all can’t breathe.”

    The group then gathered and formed a circle in front of the chapel. They dropped their signs, held hands and remained silent for 4.5-minutes. The stillness honored the 4.5 hours that Brown’s body lay in the streets after being shot by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer.

    Jones, along with the rally’s other organizers, thanked everyone for coming and urged them all to remember why they’re here. “We can never back down,” he said. Jones emphasized that the group's fight doesn't end today. More protests and events are in the works for the coming week.

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