Op-­Ed: Looking at the Past and Present, and Why I Walked Out

Leo Farber, ‘18

2014 opened the eyes of many people to the injustice in the oppressive system of policing that has corrupted America. This enlightenment came at a hefty price, however, and it introduced the question: How many more black lives must be lost for America to acknowledge the oppression at hand and join young people in the fight for the 14th constitutional amendment of the United States? In July 2014, the unindicted strangling death of Eric Garner by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo after Garner repeatedly said “I can’t breathe,” resounded throughout the country and spurred awareness. Then, in August, Michael Brown was murdered by unindicted police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. The law enforcement agencies said to protect us brought a violent and premature end to the lives of Tamir Rice, Levar Jones, David Flores, Dillon Taylor, Freddie Gray, and John Willett, among many others.

At precisely this time last year, in December, youth activists at BHSEC participated in the Black Lives Matter movement. On December 4, 2014, students took to the streets to protest police brutality and the infringement on black rights and black lives everywhere. Despite these past efforts, almost one year later, the police continue to perpetuate the issues people of color face in America through brutal and disgusting acts of violence.

At the beginning of this month, on December 1, the powerful students of BHSEC struck up the courage to stand in solidarity with people of color for a second time by engaging in another walkout. At 11:30 a.m., students exited their classrooms with support from their peers and gathered outside the school building. With BSAN (Bard Student Activist Network) leader Jonathan Laraque Ho and some BHSEC Year 2s at the head of the pack, about 50 students marched from BHSEC to Union Square. The students’ passionate voices echoed in the city streets, garnering support from all around. Many pedestrians cheered them on and some even joined in the protest. Upon reaching Union Square, BHSEC’s brigade of students collided with Milo Hume and the Brooklyn Friends School. All the students came together to make their voices heard. Peaceful chanting echoed throughout the square and passersby started to take notice. A large sign illustrating the faces of over 25 black and brown lives lost to police violence stood with prominence as our emblem, and it became evident that our message was being understood. As people gave into their emotions and expressed their anger and sadness through the sharing of stories, random bypassers held up their fists and sometimes listened in to show their support. The experience was extremely powerful. People of all different backgrounds, skin color, and age knit so closely together in the intimate exchange of personal stories really embodied the message of diversity and equality behind the movement and was quite a beautiful site to see.

Eventually, an NYPD officer at the Square approached the group of students. In an attempt to disperse them, he said, “Today is a school day. All of you should be in school getting a proper education, and if you stay here, you will be charged with truancy.” The officer had the audacity to claim that fighting for the rights of people of color was less important than half a day’s worth of school. What that officer failed to understand was that as students, by uniting and fighting for this Black Lives Matter movement, by acknowledging the corrupt powers in place today, by standing up to a system of oppression and unequivocal power, we are educating ourselves in a necessary way that schools are mostly unable to provide. Police fear these forms of education, because they are so important and influential, and that’s why we must continue to take action in the streets. And that’s exactly what those students in Union Square did on December 1. Despite threats of being charged with truancy, students continued to chant and share their stories and then they took to the market. For about an hour, students marched back and forth through the market of small businesses at Union Square, unimpeded, and made their message heard. At 2 PM, the protest began to die down and so for one final act of solidarity, we gathered for 10 minutes of silence and then over 50 names of lives lost to police brutality were said aloud in commemoration of their lives.

The Walkout that took place on December 1st of this year and December 4th of last year represent a start to a much larger movement. In order for the Black Lives Matter movement to really take effect, more demonstrations of the anger and sadness created by the oppressive and unequal systems of power must be held. This is only the beginning, an educational phase which will end the ignorance of so many people and finally allow the ever­-present injustices towards black lives to be understood and brought to an end.

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