Students protest for Eric Garner, others discuss tactics
The Student Feminists Organization held a “die-in” protest after a jury decided not to indict a police officer in connection with the death of Eric Garner on Friday in front of the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture.
On July 17, Garner died after New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in a choke hold. Pantaleo and officer Justin Damico approached Garner after they suspected he was selling non-taxed cigarettes. The fatal encounter was caught on video, and after a jury decided not to indict on Wednesday, it reignited protests across the country that have blocked freeways and major streets in big cities.
At the UH protest, black students laid on the grass while their student allies surrounded them, standing up and holding hands. Creative writing junior Celestina Billington, one of the organizers for the event, said the protest was organized to bring awareness to the use of force by police officers against black Americans.
“We needed it to be shown that we will not stand for police brutality towards African-Americans specifically,” Billington said.
The use of police force, especially toward African-Americans, has been a national topic of discussion since a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo. decided not to indict a police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in late November. Brown’s death sparked protests nationwide, including some in Houston and at UH.
However, on Friday, some students questioned the protest tactic, saying that it separated them instead of bringing them together. Chemistry sophomore Edwin Mascorro was invited to the demonstration but said he felt it divided students.
“I’m definitely for the cause; it’s a good cause for it,” Mascorro said. “But when reading the procedures on how the group decided to do the process, (we’re) at a moment in time where this country really needs to be together, not separated. Because of what’s going on between races in America, (and) being that this is the University of Houston – where diversity is major – I don’t think I would support a protest that divides the students in any way. We need to bring them together.”
Political science senior Marcus Smith said it all comes down to understanding. Smith said people should take a unified stance as an American population to achieve social change.
“The youth has always been the forefront of achieving change,” Smith said. “And the University being the center of the community, being close to the community has responsibility, to some extent, to really try to see what they can do, of being those type of leaders. That is what the University is for: ‘house of innovation,’ (and) ‘Cougar pride.’ I think if everybody thinks in that way, we’ll see a more positive change, and I expect things to grow in the future.”