Protesting While Black
So, the other night, there were graduate seminary students in New York City who were out protesting the failure to indict anyone over the death of #EricGarner. The students agreed that they would engage in nonviolent demonstrations and civil disobedience. They locked arms.
And then the darndest thing happened.
The black student was arrested. The white student was told to get out of there and while another cop eventually cuffed him, he was let go.
Two of those were Shawn Torres, 23, and Benjamin Perry, 24, both graduate students at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan. They took part in rolling demonstrations Friday night, as a cold, soaking rain swept across the city. At the end of the evening, they briefly blockaded the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive near Delancey Street and both were arrested, as they expected to be.
But Mr. Perry, a white man, and Mr. Torres, a black man, say what happened to them showed disparate treatment in subtle and stark ways. The president of the seminary has written to Mayor Bill de Blasio to suggest that the experiences of the students were “an object lesson” for retraining officers; the Police Department said it would have to review the details of the matter.
Standing on the road with arms linked just after 11 p.m., they heard a police sergeant’s final warning but had already decided they would disobey.
“We were peacefully offering ourselves up,” Mr. Perry said.
“Two officers grabbed me,” Mr. Torres said, and cuffed him with the plastic ties. “In the process, one of them ended up pushing Ben away. This is when the difference comes in.”
“I put my hands behind my head, waiting,” Mr. Perry said. “Another officer grabbed me and threw me face first on the ground. He put his head next to my ears and whispered, ‘Just get out of here.’ “
Mr. Torres, meanwhile, had been deposited in the back of a police van. “I was the first one,” he said.
Mr. Perry climbed to his feet. “I was bewildered, but I wasn’t going to leave Shawn,” he said. “I just stood there and waited. In 15 to 20 seconds, another officer saw me looking around. He cuffed me, but he didn’t want to process me. He took me around to other cops, saying, ‘Do you want to take this guy? I don’t want to be out that late.’ He was shopping me around.” Eventually he found an officer to escort Mr. Perry.
Racism is alive and well. The NYPD is investigating. There’s no reason to doubt the reporting or the claims by the two students. It’s a clear sign that police take a different position on how they interact with people, even when they’re doing the same thing right alongside each other.