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Bard Students Help Lead New York City Protests Against Police Brutality

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Students march from Union Square on Dec. 13. Photos by Zach Williams.
Students march from Union Square on Dec. 13. Photos by Zach Williams.

This story was written by Zach Williams.

Within the front lines of the Dec. 13 Millions March NYC, students from Bard High School Early College were among those leading the way.

About 30 students from the high school located on East Houston Street have been rather busy in recent weeks participating in a growing movement but also finding their own ways to protest police brutality and institutionalized racism in America. Within the whirlwind of academics, college applications and the typical extra-curricular activities, Bard students are organizing an upcoming teach-in, student conference and additional demonstrations to further heighten the activist fervor among local students.

“I always thought: ‘Well adults will know more about this, they’ll be better informed, they’ll make more of executive decisions,’” said Isabeel Schneck, a senior at Bard. “But that’s really been coming from (students) in my school … We have really come to admire them so much, more than as someone we pass in the hallway.”

The young activists began with a Dec. 1 walk-out when about 180 of them left the school to join hundreds of students from other Manhattan schools in a march from Union Square to Times Square. That day demonstrated not only their rage that a grand jury did not indict Darren Wilson — the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in August — but also the power of social media for organizing.

Since the beginning of December, they have been in the thick of the action at protests from the Brooklyn Bridge to the West Side to Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But more important, the students say, they have continued to organize through Students Against Police Brutality, a Facebook group which now counts more than 500 members since Bard senior Mojique Tyler, created it on Nov. 27.

Student organizer Mo Tyler at Foley Square.
Student organizer Mo Tyler at Foley Square.

The current outrage against police treatment of people of color strikes Tyler as more focused and immediate compared to other recent protests such as the climate change march in September, he said in an interview. People are taking to the streets within hours of new developments, he added, as was the case Dec. 3 when a grand jury announced a police officer would not face criminal charges for the chokehold that killed Eric Garner last summer.

“People are coming out in such big force for this (movement) because it’s immediate. You can look on the news and see the direct effect of what’s going on,” he said.

Such immediacy has also helped in dealing with parents worried about the dangers of protesting, said junior Emma Morgan-Bennett, who like other student leaders comes from a family with a history of activism. Though they worry for her safety, she said her parents trust that, with a few pieces of advice, she will be able to handle herself against the NYPD.

While some students have taken leadership roles, the rank-and-file remain involved in planning through Facebook, where organizers can post ideas and quickly receive feedback. Sometimes they have to deal with some opposition, but the consensus has been that the process is succeeding, according to Morgan-Bennett.

Morgan Bennett, holding megaphone.
Morgan Bennett, holding megaphone.

HS students marching

“Whenever we make a decision we post it on Facebook,” she said in an interview. “A lot of times we get: ‘No no no no no that is not a good idea,’ but most of the time we get: ‘Sounds great.’”

The students demand greater accountability — to say the least — from police officers who kill people of color as well as the political and social systems which protect them. However, there are also popular attitudes as well, some widely held though seldom spoken out loud, students said.

Though slavery ended 150 years ago, a racial hierarchy remains, Morgan-Bennett said. The deaths of Brown and Garner reflect systemic problems evidenced by an inclination among many people to give police officers the benefit of the doubt regardless of their conduct in dealing with diverse communities, according to freshman Jonathan Laraque-Ho.

He added that even some of his fellow students are quick to excuse the actions of police despite statistics which suggest that ethnic minorities receive the harshest treatment.

“I think it’s generally about police brutality and how (police) have this power to kill and get away with it. It’s just murder without consequence and it is racist,” he said.

After the Dec. 13 Millions March NYC, Tyler was back on Facebook the next day with the latest details on an upcoming conference. Due to sickness the previous week which prevented him from securing a venue, they would have to reschedule for the following week.

But he ended his post with a call for action with ambitious goals.

“While the march yesterday was somewhat tame, it was huge and was really important,” he wrote on Dec. 14. “We stretched for over a mile through Foley Square and back down Broadway. We had tens of thousands of people.”

“Rest up everyone, this isn’t over,” he concluded.

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