What Happened When Two Students, One Black and One White, Participated in a Peaceful Protest
What Happened When Two Students, One Black and One White, Participated in a Peaceful Protest
By Rev. Shawn Torres and Benjamin Perry / huffingtonpost.com
Dec 14, 2014

We are two students -- one black, one white -- at Union Theological Seminary, an institution historically and presently committed to fighting against injustice through faith and action. We were outraged by the non-indictment in the case of Eric Garner, which is only the most recent example of our law enforcement's lack of accountability for violent action, particularly when said violence is committed against communities of color.

On Friday night, we participated in a peaceful protest march calling for change. Together we lay in Macy's, in Grand Central, and on the wet, cold ground of Bryant Park. Together we marched through the streets of our city, demanding that justice be served against those sworn to protect and serve when they so egregiously violate this promise. The march ended on the FDR when we stood together, arm-in-arm, as riot police charged. 

We linked arms to show that neither of us stood alone. We linked our arms to show our solidarity in the fight against injustice, police brutality and the slaying of black bodies. We loudly proclaimed that black lives matter.

Up to this point in our story we acted identically, we acted in unison and we committed the same acts of civil disobedience. It is at point in the story, however, that our narratives sharply diverged. Ironically so, as this treatment only underscored the unfortunate truth we had taken to the streets to protest: black and white bodies are not treated equally.

As a line of riot cops approached, two officers broke off and headed directly toward us. Both of them went after the black one of us, Shawn, forcefully ripping us apart. A few seconds later an officer grabbed Ben, the white one of us, and threw him to the ground.

Then the officer leaned over and whispered in Ben's ear, "Just get out of here."

No such offer was made to Shawn. Ben stood up, suddenly and bewilderingly free, and saw Shawn being dragged off towards the police vans. Unwilling to abandon his friend, Ben waited until he, too, was arrested -- at which point the person who had cuffed him sought out someone else to officially take him in.

In the mean time, as Shawn spoke with his arresting officer another officer accused him of "making smart remarks" and charged into the back of the police holding van. Afraid and feeling physically threatened, Shawn yelled "I am not saying anything smart!" The officer backed off, and eventually Ben joined him in the van.

At the station Shawn had his 2.5-inch round Union Seminary button removed because it could be used as a weapon. Ben kept his. With a broken phone in the holding cell, we each asked our arresting officers to make a phone call on our behalf. Ben's officer made the call, Shawn's officer declined. Another officer entered the cell to speak with us, and referred to Latinos as the "real thugs," intensifying an already unsafe atmosphere for Shawn, who is half Puerto Rican.

Looking at the story of our arrests we find both commonality and difference. We both peacefully surrendered to the police and we both found our peaceful surrender met with violent response. This did not surprise either of us, but our lack surprise is indicative of how normative it has become for police to use violence as a first response instead of as a last resort.

More pressing than this commonality, though, is the difference in our experiences. At a protest of how the law treats white and black bodies differently, police treated our white and black bodies differently. 

At the end of the day, this difference did not end tragically for either of us. We were not seriously hurt and were released from jail later that evening. However, in the case of Eric Garner and far too many black bodies in this country, this difference in perception is fatal.

Justice may be blind, but the officers who enforce it are most certainly not.

We emerge from this encounter united. As Christian ministers the book that gives rise to both of our faith centers around the story of a man killed at the hands of the state and the promise that this death is not, and cannot be, the final word. We will continue to speak out as long as we see bodies killed at the hands of a state that refuses to indict those responsible. We will continue to speak out as long as black and white bodies experience unequal treatment at the hands of the law. We will speak for those bodies whose voices were violently stolen from them.

Death will not be the final word.

 

 First-year Master of Divinity student at Union Theological Seminary
 Third-year Master of Divinity student at Union Theological Seminary

4.0 ·
1
Trending Today
Revolution and American Indians: “Marxism is as Alien to My Culture as Capitalism”
Russell Means78,488 views today ·
15 Powerful Quotes From the World's Most Humble President
Hyacinth Mascarenhas15,178 views today ·
MP Says Government is Intentionally Making People Destitute to Prevent Organised Opposition
2 min11,736 views today ·
This Short Film Plays Out Like an Epic Movie That Will Shake Your Soul - But the Movie Is Real, and We are The Actors
6 min6,568 views today ·
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small6,532 views today ·
Every Town Needs a Remakery
Jeremy Williams5,156 views today ·
Without Saying a Word This 6 Minute Clip From Samsara Will Make You Speechless
6 min4,543 views today ·
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min4,045 views today ·
Why We Can and Should Abolish the Police and Prison Industrial Complex
2 min3,998 views today ·
Load More
New
Meet The Woman Rescuing Fruit and Feeding Her Community
2 min
Debating the British Empire's 'Legacy' Is Pointless - This Is Still an Imperial World
Ibtisam Ahmed
9 Times Video Games Were Great for Mental Health
Marijam Didzgalvyte and Jish Newham
What is Populism?
6 min
5 Things You Can Do To Help Immigrant and Muslim Neighbors
Lornet Turnbull
Why We Can and Should Abolish the Police and Prison Industrial Complex
2 min
Break the Chain - Fortnight of Action Against Fracking Supply Chain Begins
Andrew Butler
Republican Fight to Criminalize Protest Tactics
5 min
Trouble, Ep. 1 - Killing the Black Snake
30 min
Load More
What's Next
First World Problems
1 min
They Don't Care About Us
5 min
The Weather Underground (2002)
91 min
Like us on Facebook?
What Happened When Two Students, One Black and One White, Participated in a Peaceful Protest