By Valerie Victor
On Tuesday April, 28 2015, President Barack Obama addressed the nation during a speech at the white house drawing attention to what many York students and faculty members now consider a “national crisis.” The president spoke of violent protests, otherwise known as the “Baltimore Riots,” that have dominated the news and social media. The riots have drawn the attention of many New Yorkers concerned with the “slow-rolling” issue, police brutality. Much of what President Obama states in his address to the nation raised concerns within the student body at York College.
It’s less about the Encounter, More about Minorities
Jared Ban-Sluytman, a Political science major at York College said, “It is a national issue. We have these issues in New York, we have these issues down South, we have these issues out West… it seems to be happening constantly throughout the country.” Ban-Sluytman expands on the prominence of instances where minorities are targeted, specifically African-Americans that are losing their lives as the result of civilian-police encounters. Occurrences in Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, New York, and recently Baltimore, Maryland, leave many students like Jared concerned about what is to come when considering Americas past of slavery and racism. The deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and now Freddie Gray do not go unnoticed by York College students.
“I think it is a national crisis for sure, this country, they still have this perception towards minorities…” said Aroosa Adan, Pharmaceutical Science Major at York College. Adan, coming from a Pakistani decent speaks up about police officer’s tendencies to target minorities drawing connections between the treatment of “Blacks” in Baltimore, and the treatment of “Muslims” post nine-eleven. Adan states, “I remember as a freshman not knowing where the school is and I was asking for the address like where is York College, and he just kept telling me to back off and don’t be so close to me… I’m not interested in being close to you, I didn’t have a weapon, you are the one with a weapon that can hurt me… and it’s very insulting, after nine-eleven they had this stereotype of Muslims and it’s the same for blacks.”
The occurrences in Baltimore leave students feeling uneasy about potential police encounters. “I’m going to have this fear in my mind” said Aroosa Adan. Other students made it a point to discuss the underlying inequality present across the nation. One student defines the crisis as a matter of racial inequality. Ben Azinge, a Political Science Major and Pre-law minor at York College claims the issues in Baltimore stem from deeply rooted racial struggle. Azinge declares, “How does Michael Vick go to jail for killing a dog, but Treyvon Martin’s killer, who is not a cop, get off the hook for a technicality of the degree of what he was charged for in court…you’re trying to tell me dogs matter more than black people?” Azinge draws from the many instances of minorities dying from police encounters to support his claim. As the Political Science Major continues to talk about what is happening in Baltimore Azinge states, “It affects us emotionally… spiritually.”
The Pain in Protesting
A recent report from the office of the Attorney General in Baltimore, Brian E. Frosh states, “Violence, fires and looting will not get us there. The line from peaceful protest to looting and violence has, sadly, been crossed. The events in Baltimore are putting first responders and many in our community at risk… the situation has deteriorated to the point where we need a state of emergency.” The acts of violence in attempts to protest leave Baltimore in deplorable conditions. The Mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie- Rawlings-Blake, implemented a curfew for Baltimore in attempts to restore order.
Many York College students feel the protests are both helpful and hurtful to the issue at hand. “Protesting violently is a good way to get their attention… The more the media, the more press, the more people that are involved, the stronger the movement and the stronger your case is going to be…of course understanding that with that comes sacrifices. I personally can’t think of a peaceful way of changing something like this” said Ban-Sluytman. Without drawing enough attention to the issue nationally, many York students feel that the crisis will not be resolved. Although many students at York do not feel violence is productive, a majority of students support the underlying objective in protesting aggressively, which is to draw enough attention to push for a change.
The lack of enough government action to intervene and put an end to the continuous casualties by police officers leaves York students disappointed. Although students don't agree with the violence they understand why Baltimore residents are rioting. Arose Adan said, “But who’s going to decide what’s wrong if the government doesn’t take any action… people are going to rise against it and form these unions to fight for a cause, and that cause is very major, the lives of everybody. But you need to show you’re different from that person, it’s not always blood with blood.” Similarly, Ben Azinge declares, “It’s both. I don't believe that what they’re doing is right, but when your hurt, your hurt… Every revolution is bloody, when people want change and they can’t see that government is helping them, this is how they lash out.”
“We know it’s happening we see it happening” said, Jared Ban-Sluytman. Many of the students at York know about what has happened in each of these police-civilian encounters because of videos leaked on social networks. “Now that social media and the media are so involved, I think it has brought light to an issue that’s been around for a while which is good, because now you know that something’s going on...but it also has a way of roweling people up when they don’t now the situation fully” said Ban-Sluytman. Although social media assists in getting the attention of the nation, some students argue it can be somewhat counterproductive in that they don’t provide people with the full story or scenario.
“What happened last year, what’s happening now, I just have no words… I saw the video, my brother saw the video, and he was speechless. What happened to Eric Garner, it was just ridiculous” said York student Aroosa Adan. The speed of the internet and the large body of individuals that have access to these types of media and technology spread the stories of casualties by police brutality nationwide. Most York students feel the media have helped bring awareness to the crisis. These issues have dominated social networks like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other news outlets.
“I think social media does help, but it depends on what you believe; do you believe ignorance is bliss? Sometimes it better to be unaware, but in this case I definitely think social media has helped. Its helping these issues come up” said student Aroosa Adan. Without social media students feel like the issues would not get as much attention and would thereby not push for change. York students consider media outlets to be the “eye-opener” to the issues in the nation. “Technology is the outlet, things are always going on in the world” said student, Ben Azinge.
It Affects Police Too
Although many York students are bothered by the issues for civilians and the nation, many students acknowledge that the crisis also affects Police officers negatively too. “For the officers that do their job properly, assuming that they are not reacting negatively just because someone is African-American, it does put them in a more uncomfortable situation because now nobody seems to trust them” states Jared Ban-Sluytman. York students speak on the issues police officers face now that people may not trust or feel comfortable with their presence.
“There are two sides to it, every coin has two sides” said Aroosa Adan. Not only are civilians feeling targeted, police officers feel targeted as well. Adan added, “A lot of people are angry and there is no telling how you will be received in any encounter. The job to protect and serve while people are so angry, and in some cases have developed this hatred towards police officers is tough.”
During Obama’s speech, the president mentions the union of the “Task Force” composed of law enforcement officers and community activists coming together and making proposals in order to make a difference. The president also mentioned plans for Police reform outlining announcements from the Department of Justice regarding grants set out to fund re-training cops and placing cameras on cops. York students do not feel like cameras are a sufficient solution to the issue and question the issue in funding such police reform. “Most squad cars have cameras, and we have already been able to see video, but these issues still come about, cameras on these officers could help, but financially that’s a big investment” states Ban-Sluytman.
Although many students aren’t satisfied with cameras, the idea of re-training officers pleased mostly every student. “I think in terms of doing more training, that is by far the most important part, we need to do a better job at selecting who we allow to wear the badge and be armed and we need to train them more carefully…I don’t want to blame only the officers, I personally don’t want to blame the entire organization based on the actions of just a few.”
Some students feel like the issue surpasses the use of cameras. “What would stop these cops from doing what they do, is them not feeling like they can’t get away with it” said Political Science Major, Ben Azinge. Many believe that the problem is the mentality of police officers. If police officers have real consequences students believe that those consequences will reform police procedures.
Solving the Problem
What was common between Obama and York students was the idea of the need for community improvement to eliminate situations like the ones in Baltimore. “I have interned at the Department of Probation twice now, and education by far is the cure to most issues speaking solely on the kids involved. The things their doing or the people that they’re with, and what comes to certain people as common knowledge, like respecting an officer and respecting people in general is lacking” declares York Student, Jared Ban-Sluytman.
Ban-Sluytman continued to speak about the infrastructure of these more urban communities. “Gangs now days are limited to small areas like Hollis, Jamaica, bayside and more areas and it’s because of the lack of figures in their lives leaving them to interact with individuals taking part in criminal activity. If you live in an apartment building and every kid your age is a part of a gang, you don’t have a choice, you have to join, if you don’t join they’ll target you” said Jared Ban-Sluytman. The ways of the communities create an atmosphere for violence like the Riots to occur.
“Whatever happened in the protesting is a response to the passiveness of the government…It shouldn’t be to this level where you can be killing innocent people….even if they have the proof what else do they require, what else they want.” Students believe that the government is not holding officers accountable. Many students express their concern for the lack of real repercussions for individuals in positions of power like police officers that abuse that power. The lack of people being prosecuted in the presence of viable proof also concerns students.
Many students refer to the court ruling for Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Mike brown as examples and now anticipate that the court rulings in the case of Freddie Gray probably will not be any different. The court systems and rulings leave students feeling like the court systems are unreliable in attaining justice and students feel the need for reforming the “system” as a solution. “People need to be held accountable for their actions” said Ban-Sluytman. Another student adds by saying, “I wish there was a way I can say hey I don't like the way your policing, me i’m not paying you, and take that money and build a system that can protect us” said Ben Azinge. The lack of an appropriate response from officials in office and in positions of authority is a problem many York students feel needs to be resolved.
“Rosa Parks, what she did was very smart. Most black people stopped taking the trains and buses, and all Blacks rose together and said they would rather wake up 3 hours early just to avoid using the transportation system until they get respect as contributing members of society. When you do that you encroach the economy… and that’s when you'll get a response” states Ben Azinge. Azinge focused a lot on the lack of people’s knowledge in these communities on how to be successful in attaining change suggesting that the past civil leaders were more intellectual in how they protested.
“Look at what Kanye West said in his song, in my community the dope stars are the rock stars, they’re the Bon Jovi, they’re the Kiss… These kids just want to have something… Somebody said if you want to hide something from a black man put it in a book. Obama is right” said Azinge. Students feel like there needs to be a way for individuals in these communities to see a way out through getting an education and actually having the opportunity to obtain that education. “These people are products of the environment, they have no proper schooling, no real parental figures, and there aren’t many economic opportunities” declares Ben Azinge.
A focused Nation
America’s tendency to soon forget major issues concerns students. “Let’s just hope that we continue focusing on it, instead of just letting it fade to the background like we usually do with each issue” declares Jared Ban-Sluytman. Students hope that people continue to unite across the nation in hopes to spark real change. Although some students feel the short attention span of the nation is one problem, some students focus on the busy lifestyle of many people as a fact contributing to the duration of public participation.
“It’s not that people don't care about it, people are just trying to survive, and people still have responsibilities like rent and bills. It’s the way the system is built. You work for the system instead of the system working for you” said Ben Azinge. York students acknowledge that many people may not be able to spend all day demonstrating and protesting. “Civil participation has gone down, maybe because of entertainment, and maybe it’s made people a little more docile” states York Student, Ben Azinge. Many students at York College speak about the nation and its tendency to forget and be distracted in hopes that this time around people will remain loyal and focused on the issues to reach a point of resolution once and for all.