Advertisement
News

Here's How New Yorkers Reacted to the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

"​I hope people wake up. I hope people are starting to understand that the system is really not with us. It's actually against us."

by Hannah K. Gold and Aaron Miguel Cantú
Nov 25 2014, 4:54pm

Cops massed to keep an eye on protesters in Manhattan last night. All photos by the authors

New Yorkers know a thing or two about out-of-control policing, having seen their share of  ​brutality incidents. So it was no surprise that by 6 PM Monday evening there were already several dozen people gathered at the northeast end of Union Square in Manhattan waiting to hear whether the grand jury in Ferguson would indict Darren Wilson for killing Mike Brown more than three months ago. They chanted against police violence and drifted around the peripheries of the square. By 9 PM, when the decision was supposed to be announced, the crowd had swelled into the hundreds.

The gathering grew quiet and tense as the designated hour came and went. When St. Louis County prosecutor  Robert McCulloch actually began to speak at 9:15 or so, people swarmed around cell phones as if they were campfires. 

Moments after the non-indictment was announced, the crowd's energy and emotion spiked. People immediately began heading toward Broadway, pushing aside the metal barricades the police had set up to contain the crowd. Hundreds poured into the street, marching to Times Square as the impromptu march's ranks swelled to at least a thousand.

The crowd then broke into factions, some heading to Brooklyn, others to Harlem. Three of the city's major bridges—the Triboro, Manhattan, and Brooklyn—were shut down. We spoke with the people along the way.

Atoia Scott, fashion designer

VICE: Why did you come out here tonight?
Atoia: I was walking by and saw this was happening and decided to join. I just got back from France.

What was the reaction of people in France to everything that happened in Ferguson?
Their perspective is interesting because they don't really see things like that happening [over there]. They have a very good social system, I would say, humanitarian laws are very strict and people usually respect them, especially law enforcement. And they're not used to seeing policemen being aggressive with civilians for no apparent reason.

What are your thoughts on the non-indictment?
I'm not surprised, but I'm feeling a little more emotional than I thought I'd be, initially. I just hope that one day we will see justice, global justice for all individuals, no matter their social status, their ethnicity, or their religious beliefs.

Francisco Gomez, after-school science teacher and college student

Why did you come out here tonight?
Francisco: I came because I felt like it was mandatory for me to come, because it greatly affects me. I grew up in the Bronx, I've been getting harassed by police officers since I was 12, since I was in sixth grade. It's calmed down a little bit, but it hasn't calmed down in other states I guess.

What did you think of the non-indictment?
To be honest, I feel like that's an inside job. The higher-ups are protecting him.

What should happen now?
I hope people wake up. I hope people are starting to understand that the system is really not with us. It's actually against us. I feel like this system is just helping out just a handful of people, not the whole 100 percent of this country.

What should be done to change the police in America?
I believe there should be more laws regulating police abuse. I also feel like police go through psychological trauma, and they should get some social support while they work so they won't break those boundaries again. I feel like police also need social and emotional help sometimes.

Monica Hunken, performer and artist

I'm wondering first of all what brought you out tonight? What brought you to this march?
Monica: Because it's been too long that we've had this sort of injustice and this inequality in how we value lives in America, and that people don't realize racism is so strong and systematic in our country, in our legal justice system, that it's about time we came out. Two young black men were killed this week. One was a 12-year-old, ​killed for having a BB gun.

How did it make you feel when you heard there would be no indictment?
It hurt me in the gut, but I wasn't surprised. I had a little bit of hope that maybe it would go to trial, but I knew it wouldn't. It's just so sickening to see so many people feel that same thing. People weren't immediately all crying, but people just knew, they took it in like, Yeah, that's what our system is like here. That's what our country is like.

What do you hope to see happen after tonight is over?
I hope to see more people being mobilized. And I already see it—more young people are getting mobilized. We have a serious epidemic of young people not feeling empowered and feeling like the only thing they can do is vote. Now I think people are learning more to come back to civil disobedience, to come back to direct action, to come back to taking the streets.

Arian N., concerned human being

Could you tell me what brought you here tonight to Times Square?
Arian: I was following the march, I didn't know where it was going. I came out because I heard that the indictment was going to come back and, honestly, it didn't really matter to me which way it went. I personally don't have faith in the system—it's designed to criminalize people, and if occasionally it indicts someone, I don't think that solves the issue either. I'm not trying to send another human being into a box. That's not justice in my view. There needs to be a structural change.

How do you feel now that the march, since it's hit Times Square, has become fragmented?
It's disappointing. Times Square is where marches die, where movements end. There's all this beautiful energy between people and creativity, and then we come here, and I don't know what that's about, I keep asking. Everyone gets divided, the ​manarchists go wherever they want to go.

What do you think of manarchists?
I think their intentions are good like so many of us. Like with the police, they're well-intentioned but there's some structural shit going on... As men, we're taught to be violent when we get emotional. The manarchists always think they can tell everyone what to do and everyone's gonna run off and follow them. That's patriarchy.

Chino, concerned citizen

What do you make of the non-indictment?
Chino: Of course I think it's total bullshit. I have mixed feelings. I can't believe it, but I knew it was gonna happen. You see it happen every goddamn time the cops, or just some armed crazy white person, kills a young black person, a young person of color. It's just... I'm just like, What will it take to make that stop? And I think more people are feeling like, I want to do whatever it takes to make that stop.

What do you think should happen now?
Now I hope there's a powerful movement of poor people and people of color in the country to fight back against the police and get the fucking cops off of people's backs. And actually solve the problems that are in people's lives.

What should be done to change the police in America?
Well, I'm of the mindset that you have to transform the broader social conditions. The police basically exist because there's poor people all over that hustle to get by, doing little black market stuff on the side to survive, and that's masses of people in this country who do that. The problem is the system in the country.

Elisa Teebles, activist

VICE: Why'd you come out tonight?
Elisa:
I've been hit by this since the beginning, [but] you have to come full circle with it I guess. I realized I didn't want to be alone, asking people to get together, but it turned out people were already together in Union Square.

What do you make of the non-indictment?
It felt like New Year's Eve. You know the ball's gonna drop, but somehow it's still a surprise. I was talking to someone in Ferguson a while back, we were all like, "You know we're 99 percent sure there's not gonna be an indictment, but there's always that .001 percent, right?" I was still holding to that.

What do you hope happens next?
I don't know. I would take a really intense look at our policing policies and practices and really ask why it's so hard to have some basic transparency, decent training. I mean, you know something has to change. but what I really want is if... if in the same way Occupy taught everyone about the 99 percent, if at the end of all this, "Black lives matter!" becomes as much of a cultural thing as the 99 percent did, as part of everyone's vocabulary. I could die tomorrow.

What do you think needs to happen for policing to change in America?
I guess a bunch of fucking laws man, I don't know. I wanna say we can just throw the whole thing over and burn the shit to the ground. But we're not gonna do that. And if all this is legal because of some bogus law that makes it impossible for a cop to get indicted for shooting an unarmed civilian, then we need to change that law.

Follow ​Hannah and ​Aaron on Twitter.