Photo and Video by Eithan Roy
NEW YORK — It was his first time at a protest. Many thoughts crossed the mind of Eithan Roy, a 16-year-old boy from the Bronx, on the train ride to Brooklyn, Friday afternoon. One of them was the memory of his aunt, who went out and protested the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and told him about it.
Seeing the harrowing video of George Floyd’s brutal death convinced Roy the time had come to get his voice heard. His aunt gave him her blessing.
“My aunt was the one who encouraged me to go,” Roy said.
“I felt it was my time, since I’m finally old enough to go and protest and support my people. There is no justice, or peace,” Roy said.
He found himself with four other teenage friends among hundreds of people who gathered to protest police brutality in front of the Barclays Center, in the heart of Brooklyn’s downtown, days after Floyd, an unarmed African-American man, died after a police officer knelt on his body during an arrest.
The protest Roy attended on Friday began with hands raised in the air and chants of “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and shouts of rage against the police. It didn’t take long before a cloud of tear gas spurted into air.
“We were shooting pictures. And that’s when they started shooting mace into the sky,” Roy said.
One of his friends, an African-American girl named Taylor Barros, who is also 16, had her eyes covered in mace. She cried and screamed as fellow protesters poured milk and baking soda on her face trying to soothe the burning. Her eyes were still hurting minutes later.
The protests quickly turned chaotic. Police began charging, handcuffing, dividing crowds.
At one moment, Roy heard the piercing scream of a girl. He turned to see. It was Barros.
“I ran over there and they were grabbing Taylor,” he said. “She had two cops over her.”
A video recorded by Roy shows her pinned to the ground by two police officers.
“I’m sixteen! I’m sixteen! I’m sixteen!” Barros screams.
“What are you doing? She’s a minor!” bystanders can be heard saying.
“You have to call my mom! You have to call my mom!” the teenager screams as she’s carried away by the cops.
Roy recalled feeling powerless as the officers took her friend away in handcuffs.
“There was nothing I could really do besides taking pictures,” he said.
The video doesn’t show Barros resisting or being violent. Roy didn’t see the moments immediately preceding the arrest, but said the charges against her are overblown.
“She didn’t do any of those,” he said.
Many of the protesters at Barclays were teenagers. Some of them were arrested.
Police began charging when water bottles were thrown at them. But two hours after the protest had begun, crowd control had become more aggressive.
Police officers used their batons, regardless of the age of the people they had in front of them.
Roy said police were particularly abusive with the younger ones.
“The actions they were taking on the children yesterday is the worse,” he said.
Roy, who identifies himself as a black Puerto Rican, met Barros, when the two were in seventh grade together at St. Philip Neri school in the Bronx.
Roy was drawn by Barros’ sense of social justice. She told him about the first protest she attended in 2014, in the wake of Eric Garner’s death. She soon initiated him into the world of social activism.
“When Taylor called me saying she was going to the protest, I told her I was on my way to meet her,” Roy said.
“It was her and my aunt,” Roy said. “Ever since the Trayvon Martin situation, I feel that everything that happened has just made it worse, and it added to the reason why I should protest.”