At its peak, over 300 students marched in protest along Prospect Avenue starting at midnight Tuesday morning chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,“ “No justice, no peace” and “Black lives matter,” in what was probably the largest public protest at the University in recent years.
The protest occurred the night before Thanksgiving break, a night known for students going out to the eating clubs — also located along Prospect Avenue — and partying before leaving campus for the rest of the week.
The protest looped around both sides of the Street against the backdrop of a separate group of students that vied for entry into one of Princeton’s 11 eating clubs.
The protests occurred hours after a grand jury ruled that Darren Wilson, a policeman from the suburbs of St. Louis, Mo., will not face charges in the shooting of unarmed African-American 18-year-old Michael Brown. Wilson shot Brown multiple times in broad daylight on a residential street in August. The grand jury deliberated for several months, and the aftermath of the shooting featured several protests in Ferguson, Mo.
Proceedings began in Frist Campus Center shortly after 11 p.m., where students gathered to write signs protesting the grand jury’s decision, with messages including, “I am Mike Brown,” “Brown deserves justice” and “Black lives matter here and everywhere.”
Students, led by Terrence Fraser ’16, Yoselin Gramajo ’16, Briana Payton ’17 and Destiny Crockett ’17, among others, organized the event shortly after the decision was made in Missouri, with emails going out to several residential college listservs an hour before midnight, as well as an email sent to students in the Black Student Union. Fraser sent a Facebook message at around 10 p.m. to approximately 24 people in an attempt to rally support for the protest. According to Deputy Dean of the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne, present at the protest, the idea for the gathering was originally proposed at an event sponsored by the Fields Center.
The protesters began marching across central campus shortly after departing from Frist Campus Center, and the line continued to grow as the group arrived at Prospect Avenue close to midnight. Students at the scene noted that the line of students grew each time the activists circled the block. By 12:30 a.m., enough students were present to populate both sides of the Street.
“It’s really warmed my heart how people walking to the Street have joined us,” Miranda Bolef ’18, who participated in the protest, said.
Students were not the only individuals in attendance. Dunne, with other University staff members, walked at the front of the procession, while several local police officers, as well as officers from the University’s Department of Public Safety stood by. Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan was also present.
DPS deferred comment to University spokesperson Martin Mbugua, who explained that ODUS and DPS always become involved when campus protests occur.
“We are aware that there are students who are expressing themselves in and around campus, and, as we do during such events, we urge them to be respectful of others and their surroundings,” Mbugua said. “Our students are usually very responsive and do so responsibly.”
“We’re just here to support student protests, which is … a normal function of our responsibilities,” Dunne explained. Dunne added that he has not directly seen this number of students participating in a campus protest during his time as dean.
The Princeton Police Department declined to comment at press time.
“The verdict is an atrocity. We are doing this because of a bunch of apathy with regards to racial brutality on campus,” said Fraser, one of the student organizers.
Fraser explained that the event was initiated by the Black Leadership Coalition during an art event last week. After the verdict came out, the coalition, a union of the Black Student Union and Princeton African Students Association, among others, used communication resources including listservs for all residential colleges and of various identity groups on campus to call for protestors. Fraser said he was grateful for the diversity of students who showed up to protest.
The protesters marched across Prospect Avenue several times, passed through Prospect Garden, paraded across Nassau Hall and finally convened in front of Robertson Hall. Organizers of the event asked all protestors for a moment of silence, which went on for 4 minutes and a half, to represent the 4 and a half hours that Brown’s body was left in the streets of Ferguson.
Xavier Bledsoe ’17 addressed the crowd of protesters, noting, “My heart is heavy, my heart is burning with anger. Nonetheless, we are not broken, but we are not satisfied. How many people have been the victims of institutionalized racism?”
Bledsoe further encouraged the crowd to persist in its desire for change, be it in the classroom or in communities.
“We are Princetonians. We need to use our privilege to make the world a better place. We have that power. So use it,” Fraser added to an enthusiastic crowd.
The protest dispersed at approximately 1 a.m. as the majority of protesters continued to lead the march to the residential colleges. The organizers of the event also intended to poster campus with flyers reading “#JUSTICE FOR MIKE BROWN #BLACK LIVES MATTER” throughout early Tuesday morning, according to an email by Gramajo. Gramajo asked participants that the posters be displayed across campus by sunrise.
Another protest, titled “Rally for Racial Justice and Non-Violence in Ferguson and America,” is expected to take place on Palmer Square at 6 p.m.
“It’s important to get media attention, because otherwise Ferguson will die. Mike Brown will be forgotten,” Monica Gonzalez ’16 said. “I thought that this would be a great moment to bring all these students together for this one purpose,” she added.
“It’s amazing to see the community come together in such a short amount of time,” Martin Page ’16 said. He added that he participated in the protest because of “the fact that Black lives matter and the fact that they got it wrong.”
Corrections: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the state where the city of St. Louis is located. The state is Missouri. Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article misstated that a jury decided not to indict. It was a grand jury. The 'Prince' regrets the errors.