GHS students say they hope “die in” protest sparks conversation on race, police tactics

Greenwich High School students participate in a "die in" outside of the school. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High School students participate in a “die in” outside of the school. — John Ferris Robben photo

Adding their voices to the protests across the country, close to 150 Greenwich High School students protested decisions made by grand juries in two separate incidents of alleged improper police action leading to the deaths of unarmed black men.

Dubbed a “die-in,” the protest was organized in part by Greenwich High School student government president Blake Reinken in response to the controversial grand decisions not to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner on Staten Island. Mr. Brown, an unarmed teenager, was shot to death after the police officer claimed he was attacked by him and acted in self defense. Mr. Garner, who was also unarmed, died as a result of a chokehold being applied to him by a NYPD officer when he was being taken into custody for illegally selling loose cigarettes. The medical examiner ruled Mr. Garner’s death a homicide and the chokehold is not allowed by the NYPD, but the grand jury did not find for criminal charges.

The protest was timed to take place as fourth block classes ended and hundreds more students walked around or through the students that had laid down in the protest. The protest was announced ahead of time and district officials, including Superintendent of Schools William McKersie observed it. The protest was not sanctioned by the school or district.

In a speech to his classmates, Blake said the protest was borne out of general concern of racism in law enforcement more than of the specific recent incidents that have incited protests nationwide.

“We did not come here today to protest the death of any one man, or one jury, nor the actions of any one police officer,” Reinken read from prepared remarks. “And we did not come here to protest the selfless men and women in law enforcement who risk their lives every day to protect us. We’re here because of an undeniable pattern of racism and inequality in our nation’s criminal justice system.”

Not everyone in the student body was supportive of the protest, according to Blake and several of his fellow demonstrators. There was some vocal pushback on a Facebook group against the plans to protest, with some students calling the protesters “cop haters.” At least two people shouted derogatory remarks at the protesters as they quickly passed by.

Blake said whether or not those people said those things in a joking manner, he hoped the protest would “start a discussion about race in America” in Greenwich.

“I’d be lying if I said students at Greenwich High School had answers to our nation’s problems,” he said. “I’m not someone who is ever discriminated against. We’re only 16, 17, 18-years old, but we know our nation needs to look at all of these different factors and reach some sort of consensus on how to improve from the current situation we’re in.”

Full coverage will appear in the Dec. 11 edition of the Post.

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