Students Ask For 'Justice' In Police Shootings Of Three Teens
Ramapo College students create 'Justice' message with their bodies to "literally make a statement."
Ramapo College students used their bodies to make a statement against violence Wednesday afternoon, as a group of about 40 students took turns spelling out “Ramapo 4 Justice” with their bodies.
The students said they spelled out the message as a way to bring attention to the fatal police shootings of three teens – Trayvon Martin, 17, of Florida, Ramarley Graham, 18, of Bronx, N.Y., and Malik Williams, 19, of Garfield, N.J.
The low-key gathering, made up mostly of students from the college’s Social Work Club, came out of a desire to “do something different,” said the event’s organizer, social work student Wayne Harper.
“After Trayvon was killed, there were rallies and protests throughout the country," he said. "We wanted to do something different.”
Harper said the group began thinking of ways to “make a statement. And, it sort of hit us, if we use our bodies, we can literally make a statement.”
The students’ statement, they said, is one of awareness and advocacy.
“We want to make sure that people remember these three teenagers who were killed, and fight to implement legislation that can prevent this from happening in the future,” Harper said.
Florida’s Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in February by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who claims he was acting in self-defense. The shooting sparked rallies nationwide, and calls for the revocation of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, which allows lethal force in cases of self-defense. Ramapo students held a rally for Trayvon earlier this month.
The Huffington Post reported that Ramarley Graham, of the Bronx, was shot and killed by an NYPD officer in February while trying to flush a bag of marijuana down a toilet in his grandmother’s apartment. The teen was running from police during a drug investigation, the report said.
Police claim they thought Graham was carrying a gun, but the teen was found to be unarmed, according to reports. The case has called into question police ‘stop and frisk’ procedures, and force used during drug investigations.
The December shooting of Malik Williams occurred after the teen turned himself in to the Garfield Police on an outstanding aggravated assault warrant. Williams ran out of the police station during processing and barricaded himself in his garage, where police claim he armed himself with tools. He was shot several times by both a Garfield and a Bergen County police officer.
Harper said the death of Malik Williams is what first prompted him to advocate for legislative change. The 52-year-old Garfield resident, who worked as a mentor and coach to teens before deciding to pursue a social work degree at Ramapo, said the shooting hit too close to home.
“I’ve lived in Garfield for so long, and this shooting happened in my hometown," he said. "I guess you really need to be affected by something personally before you are motivated to act.”
Though Harper is set to graduate next month, he says fighting for justice for these three teens “will be my fight.
"I’m not saying they were all angels, but the one thing they have in common are that the shooters are all claiming they killed in self-defense," he said. "Here at Ramapo, I have learned things about social justice, and about how to advocate for legislative change. So, I am going to keep fighting for laws and police procedures that will prevent this from happening again.”