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Speak Out: Black Lives Matter
Protesting the Eric Garner decision
YCteen staff

Thousands were saddend and outraged when a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the white police officer accused of killing Eric Garner, a black man whom officers suspected of selling loose cigarettes. (An indictment would not mean Pantaleo was guilty of a crime, just that there was enough evidence to bring him to trial.) Pantaleo was caught on video holding Garner in an apparent chokehold, and Garner was heard to say repeatedly, “I can’t breathe.”

The night after the decision, five YCteen writers went to their first-ever
protest in Foley Square near City Hall. Here’s their take on the scene.

Enough Evidence

Victoria Windham, 15, Academy for Social Action: A College Board School:
I was surprised how many people came out of their comfortable homes on a cold night to protest and fight for African-American rights. I hope it helps raise awareness of the unfair treatment of young men like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. What’s the point of Nelson Mandela going to prison for 27 years or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marching for freedom if people are still going to be acting like this?

Eric Garner told the police 11 times that he couldn’t breathe. I believe that after a person says “I can’t breathe” twice, if the policeman doesn’t respond, his intention changes from arresting to killing. Since the incident was caught on video, I thought that was enough evidence for the cop to be indicted.

We Are Not Animals

Desmin Braxton, 20:
Police are targeting black males like me. I went to the protest to make a stand for black people. I wanted to be part of a strong, positive movement for justice for my people.

The police are killing our people and getting away with it. How could the officer not get indicted when his chokehold caused Eric Garner’s death? When I heard this I felt terrible and upset. When there is black-on-black crime or when a black man kills a white person we get the book thrown at us.

There were hundreds of people at the protest—white, black, Hispanic, and Asian—all standing up for justice. They chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” It felt good to be one with others standing up to fight for justice. Some police looked nervous like they were ready for any action. But it wasn’t about violence; it was about being heard.

I hope the protests around the country can influence future indictment decisions. I hope they encourage people to stay united. I hope they show that black people are not animals, that we are smart, intelligent, and civilized. I hope they help everyone understand that black people should be treated equally and that black is beautiful and that black lives matter.

I Have a Voice

Isela Larreinaga, 15, Hillcrest HS:
As a child growing up in El Salvador, I heard my mother tell my father about a friend who was thrown in jail for stealing food from the market because his family was hungry. The police beat the man during his arrest and while he was in jail. This confused me because I thought police were supposed to protect the citizens from dangerous people and keep cities safe.

When we moved to New York, I told my mom I’m glad that in the U.S. we don’t have to deal with such brutality and that police have respect for us just like we do for them. But in the summer I saw on the news that a father named Eric Garner had passed away from a police chokehold. I was angry; it made me feel like the police have no respect for people of color.

image by YC-Art Dept

My mother thought maybe Eric Garner was resisting arrest, so I looked up the story online and watched the video. I saw the police officer put Garner in a chokehold while he was cuffed and on the ground. Other police sat on him as the poor man was calling out, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” But the police didn’t listen to him and he slowly died.

When I arrived at the protest I saw an abundant amount of police and a crowd of people. I saw signs that said, “I can’t breathe” and “Black lives matter.” The crowd was chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” I was happy I’d come: I felt like I had a voice. I was blown away by the fact that Eric Garner’s unfair death united so many people in New York City. It was an incredible feeling knowing that I’m not the only person who wants things to change, that I’m not the only one angry that police get away with things like this.

I’m grateful I had the opportunity to stand up for what I believe in beside the people who believe as I do that police brutality must be stopped. The police are supposed to protect us, not endanger us.

Shivers Down My Spine

Victor Tanis-Stoll, 20, Baruch College:
I’d never been to a protest so it was a lot to take in. People chanting in unison made the message of the gathering all the more compelling—that something should be done about the miscarriage of justice in the deaths of two black men by police in Staten Island and Ferguson, Missouri.

There was a line of police officers—over 20, I think—facing the crowd of hundreds. Police cars were scattered around the protest area and a helicopter was hovering over City Hall, shining its bright light on the building, and occasionally on the people below.

The scene reminded me of riots I’ve seen on TV with officers holding a firm line. The only difference now was people were protesting peacefully, holding up signs that called for justice and equality in this matter. The huddled gathering of strangers in the street elicited a feeling of amazement in me and sent shivers down my spine. It made me realize how real police discrimination is. Before this, I was aware of the facts but not the whole spectrum of feelings and opinions attached to it.

People took to the streets to protest, chanting “I can’t breathe,” the words Garner spoke before he died. The chant stays with me because I get it. Garner has become a symbol for those who were or are victims of police discrimination. His final words live on, even after his untimely death, and there’s no way you can put that in a chokehold.

Warmed by Hope

Levaunna Gray, 17, Hillcrest HS:
Even before I got to the protest site, I could sense that something was going on. There was a helicopter in the air, its beam pointed down at the protesters. The streets were lined with police officers and I heard a faint chant. As I drew closer, I could feel my adrenaline pumping.

Hundreds of people were chanting. To me, it wasn’t that white or black people were protesting; it was more like humans had come together to try to ignite change. Seeing this touched my heart, and at times I felt like crying. It found something inside me. People of all ethnic backgrounds were chanting loudly, “Black lives matter!”; “I can’t breathe!”; and “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and holding placards that said the same things. At the heart of the protest, it was like being in a tin of sardines. It was also frightening to think that there were dozens of police officers nearby, just waiting for violence to erupt.

It was 36 degrees out, but I was warmed by the hope for humanity I felt at the protest. I was more comfortable being in the middle of the crowd, because I felt the police wouldn’t single me out and shoot me for being a black teen.

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