Girisha Arora / Sun Senior Editor

Protestors staged a die in on North Tioga Street, blocking the TCAT Route 10, over the April arrests of Rose Degroat and Cadji Ferguson.

September 20, 2019

Downtown Street Blocked in ‘Die-In’ Demonstration Against Police Brutality and Systemic Racism

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“No justice, no peace; no racist police” 

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” 

These are just a few of the slogans that resounded in front of Tompkins County Courthouse during a powerful two hour demonstration in support of Rose de Groat and Cadji Ferguson Friday evening.

The case of these two black residents that began with a controversial arrest in April has brought national debates on police brutality and systemic racism home to Ithaca.

A crowd of approximately 50 supporters of all ages gathered in support of de Groat and Ferguson on a day that earlier saw thousands marching in a community climate strike. Many speakers discussed the power that people had and the importance of grassroots movements in demanding change.

“I’ve watched my community die. I’ve watched my community get brutalized — it breaks my heart. But to see you beautiful people all here today, I got hope,” said Phoebe Brown, a longtime Ithaca resident.

The protestors’s demands included reparations for Ferguson and de Groat, as well as disciplinary action against the officers involved. The most important request, however, was to get District Attorney Matthew Van Houten to drop all charges against de Groat.

“It’s not okay for us to have a DA who is not willing to stand for justice for all of the people,” said Kate Salmon, who was introduced as an educator at Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori School of Ithaca.

Even though de Groat’s charges were initially reduced to misdemeanors, she is currently slated to go to trial on November 4 for two counts of attempted assault in the second degree (a felony) and a third charge for resisting arrest (a misdemeanor). Ferguson was recently acquitted of charges of disorderly conduct with the judge citing lack of evidence.

In an interview with The Sun after the protest, de Groat described the gratitude she felt towards the community for coming out and supporting her.

“I feel like I need a thesaurus to try and find the words for this,” de Groat said. “My heart is really full, I feel overwhelmed by the support.”

The protest, organized by Black Lives Matter Ithaca, Tompkins County Showing Up for Racial Justice and the Multicultural Resource Center, featured over 10 speakers, including  Prof. Russell Rickford, history.

Prof. Russell Rickford, history addresses the the protest in front of the courthouse, Friday.

Girisha Arora / Sun Senior Editor

Prof. Russell Rickford, history addresses the the protest in front of the courthouse, Friday.

Rickford, who later led the crowd in many chants including “no cops, no KKK, no fascist USA,” used his speech to draw attention to the problems of segregated housing in Ithaca and urged against the militarization of the police.

“We need a world without tasers and a world without prisons,” Rickford said. “A world where no people are disposable. That’s the logic of white supremacy … we need a different logic, we need a humanist logic, we need a human rights logic.”

Rafael Aponte, a member of Black Lives Matter Ithaca, used his speech to question the role that the police had played in letting the older white man involved in the April incident go without questioning him further. The man, identified as Joseph Ming, is accused of having instigated the incident by groping one of Ferguson and de Groat’s friends.

Aponte recalled an IPD officer’s testimony from Ferguson’s trial, where the police officer said he did not question Ming further, because he “understood the man’s pedigree.” Aponte said the officer had come to this conclusion because Ming had revealed to him that he was visiting Cornell with his son.

The lack of participation from the Cornell community was brought up often through the protest, especially since Ithaca College students were there in large numbers and also led the group in several slogans.

The protest ended with the attendees staging a “die-in” on the street in front of the courthouse. This held up a Route 10 TCAT bus for approximately 30 minutes, but there were no attempts made by the driver, or another TCAT representative who arrived soon after, to try and dissipate those who were on the road.