Protesters Rally Against Racial Injustice: Can You Breathe?

Sam Feineh
Staff Writer

“Hands up! Don’t shoot!” “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” “I can’t breathe!” “Eric Garner, Michael Brown, shut down!”

These were some of the cries of furious protesters participating in a die-in at Grand Central Terminal on December 4.

Never before in our Nation’s history has the effect of racial injustice and negative media attention impacted the American populace as it has in the past few years.

Since the explosive non-indictment decision of Darren Wilson by the nine white and three black member Grand Jury in Ferguson, MO, hordes of protesters have rallied across the nation, shouting at the top of their lungs “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands up! Don’t shoot!,” and a slew of other chants.

18 year old Michael Brown was shot dead on August 9 after Officer Darren Wilson discharged his firearm a total of 12 times. The autopsy revealed Brown was shot in his forehead, chest, arm, and forearm multiple times.

After Prosecutor Bob McCulloch revealed the Grand Jury’s non-indictment verdict, he was met with aggressive resistance outside the police station as protesters mobilized as the initial flurry of emotions set in.

Many protesters in Ferguson and people nationwide heard the news and were vastly disappointed, angered, frustrated, or numb.

Hundreds of protesters were met with tear gas by retaliating police forces. Buildings, stores, and police cars were set on fire as a swarm of angry protesters rushed in like wild animals.

Michael Brown’s family, along with the President, called for peace among protesters.

Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., commented, “Hurting others, or destroying property is not the answer… I do not want my son’s death to lead to death” (CNN).

A large majority of protests remained peaceful around the nation in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York; however the few violent protests have filled our television screens nonstop, for what seems like twenty-four hours a day.

This fanfare unfairly and disproportionately creates the image of “nationwide hysteria” that seems to occur more extensively than it truly does. Media filters information, allowing them to paint the picture they desire for their news broadcasts, tainting the authenticity of the raw news.

What should be done with the incessant media coverage which only degrades the national image?

An entire shift in media culture would be required to change the focus from manipulating the news, to a more neutral, old-fashioned response system which simply reports breaking news events without unnecessarily amplification of events.

Eric Garner, a 43 year old man living in Staten Island, was choked to death by four police officers who slammed him down on the ground as Garner, stifled, croaked what would be the cry of a revolution: “I can’t breathe.”

The life-changing video depicting officers, specifically Daniel Pantaleo, using a chokehold (forbidden and outlawed by the New York Police Department) to bring down 6-foot-3, 350 pounds Garner, is excruciating to watch.

After Garner cried for air, the officers nonchalantly called EMS, completely relaxed and undisturbed as Garner struggled. There was absolutely no sense of urgency as Garner was lifted onto the stretcher, only to die from cardiac arrest in the ambulance.

Is this case about black versus white? Legality? Or does it symbolize America’s rising racial inequity dilemma?

In Ferguson, the racial divide is significantly more visible.

“Of the 53 commissioned officers in the Ferguson Police Department, four are black” (NYTimes), yet 67.4% of the Ferguson population is black and 29.3% are white (

These numbers highlight the discrepancies between equal populace representation in law enforcement and overall demographics.

How is a 7.5% black police force representative of a majority in Ferguson?

With the shooting of Oscar Grant in 2009, Trayvon Martin in 2012, Michael Brown, Eric Grant, and Tamir Rice (12 year old African-American shot and killed by a policeman) this year as well as hundreds of other cases, America is fed up with the stagnant justice system punishing African-Americans. No matter what your beliefs are, there are certain facts that cannot be disputed.

It is a fact that more than 10% of black men in their 30s will be incarcerated at some point during a calendar year, compared to 2% rate for whites (TIME).

It is a fact that the black unemployment rate (11.4%) is more than double the white unemployment rate of 5.3% (Washington Post).

It is a fact that African-Americans comprise nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population (NAACP).

I’m not stating that the issue in Ferguson represented by these critical numbers is solely about race. I’m not stating that solely because a white man shot a black man, Darren Wilson should suffer the dire consequences.

But we cannot ignore the pertinent race issues taking over American society. The law is the law, however corrupted it is. I am saying that Americans need to voice themselves strategically and peacefully in order to address rising racial tensions nationwide which played a key role in both Garner’s and Brown’s cases.

It’s disappointing how virtually the same story is repeated over and over again. Yet nothing has been done legislatively to radically reduce racial disparities in law enforcement.

In order for this racial divide to end, African-Americans must become the change they seek in the justice system. This process can begin with positive external forces which help individuals form an intrinsic drive to strive for the best, work hard, and play by the rules. In Ferguson’s 67.4% black population rate with only a 7.5% black representation in the police department, one way to promote equal representation is to encourage more African-Americans to become police officers, lawyers, and other professions within the justice system.

This is not a simple endeavor. Nationally, many African-Americans grow up absorbing derogatory values teaching them that drug dealers should be lauded and that women are “ho*s” to be used for their bodies. One way to combat this overarching mentality is through increased community based programs, which serve as safe havens for a troubled youth to have access to computers, do their homework, and read more.

Once our African-American youth recognize the priceless values of knowledge and articulation, only then will inequity within the justice system greatly diminish.

Protesters call their efforts an “uprising” for a reason. The unfiltered power represented through protests and die-ins nationwide are soon to be on par with the March on Washington in 1963.

“I believe that the system is working perfectly fine in terms of it being one that’s about injustice… It’s time for change,” said Tiffany McFadden, a protester in New York (MSNBC).

If we voice our concerns civilly, yet forcefully, America may see a new dawn for race relations. History has shown us that we need a compelling force to embark upon this abstract concept of “change.” Change always requires an extraordinary figure.

So where’s our new MLK?


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