WANT Original Content
From the recent events in Ferguson, to the chokehold of “the gentle giant,” Eric Gardner in Staten Island, to Tamir Rice in Cleveland, the news cycle has been wrought with news of police brutality and public angst. Nationally and internationally people are taking to the streets while police continue to fight fire with fire, leading only to more unrest and violence. Questions continue to swirl. Distrust is running rampant. Young African-Americans no longer feel safe walking the streets in their own neighborhoods and their parents are wracked with worry. Our justice system seems compromised.
Ambiguity surrounds the Michael Brown case. Did Brown charge police officer Darren Wilson? Was Wilson acting in self-defense? When a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict Wilson, it meant that the key questions would never be posed and answered in a trial. A fair trial and final judgment are the pillars of the American justice system. Without an indictment and trial, each side had its arguments. Michael Brown was unarmed when shot by Officer Wilson, and those aggrieved by his death took to the streets in protest. Officer Wilson described Brown’s attempts to grab his gun and his feelings of intimidation and fear when charged by Brown. Was their enough evidence to assess guilt? Without a trial we’ll never truly know.
Then there’s Staten Island, New York. Eric Gardner got into a confrontation with the police after they confronted him for selling loose cigarettes on the street. Gardner resisted at first but then submitted to police arrest. They continued to harass and harang him – six men against one. One officer eventually wrapped his arm around Mr. Gardner’s neck in an apparent chokehold, knocked him to the ground, and cut off his air. “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” Gardner repeated eleven times. Those were his last words as he was pronounced dead an hour later. All of this was caught on camera. Eric Garner was unarmed.
Last week, after reviewing all the evidence in the Eric Gardner incident, a grand jury found that there wasn’t enough evidence to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who used the chokehold that killed Gardner. This time, due to the graphic video, nothing was unclear. Once again, the American system of justice failed to deliver justice.
What does this mean for us as teens? How do we fit into the bigger picture surrounding these events? It’s hard to say. Any of us could be singled out for police brutality, though the sad reality is that the likelihood of that occurring seems closely linked to the color of our skin. For the moment, we need to be informed — read what we can, learn about the intricacies of the events, understand all of the perspectives, and participate in debates about what happened and what should be done. Ultimately, young people should band together and rise up, exercise our freedom of speech, and peacefully call for justice. This doesn’t need to be done in a confrontational way and we don’t need to make sweeping accusations or stand staunchly along partisan lines. Our demand can be simple and pure – a request for transparency and a commitment to upholding the American justice system.