Around the country, racial tensions are running high due to the decision to not indict Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Brown was unarmed at the time of his death and was reported by witnesses to have had his hands up in surrender at the time he was shot. Although there are conflicting accounts of what exactly occurred that day, the Grand Jury’s decision to not indict Wilson led to a series of mostly peaceful protest around the country.
On Dec. 3, in the midst of the ongoing Ferguson protest, the Staten Island Grand Jury announced that it would not indict the officer whose actions led to the death of Eric Garner on July 17. Garner was arrested for selling loose cigarettes on the street and the arresting officer placed him in a choke hold that ended up killing him; a takedown that had been banned by the NYPD in 1993. The entire exchange was caught on camera and Garner could be heard telling the police officers, “I can’t breathe.” One person was indicted in this case and that person was the one who filmed the encounter.
Many are wondering… why now? Why are people willing to protest now in the light of the Brown and Garner cases when injustice has been going on for years? People are protesting for exactly that reason: Injustice has been going on for far to long. The African American population is tired of police using what many consider excessive force and violating the fundamental rights of those whom they are supposed to protect.
“The biggest thing for me would have to be fear. I say fear because at any given point in time that could be my partner, father, brother, and even if time permits my child, or even me,” said Maya Underwood, a junior at the University of Miami. “Coming out here, I don’t do it out of fear, but rather because I shouldn’t have to be afraid of losing someone I love or even my own life.”
Protests and demonstrations have been going on at universities around the country and the University of Miami is no different. On Dec. 3, students at UM organized a protest to stand up for what they believe in. The demonstration included a die in at noon at the U statute where students laid on the ground for four and a half minutes to symbolize the four and a half hours that Mike Brown’s body was left on the street. Additionally, many students wore duct tape across their mouths with #blacklivesmatter written across it. They refused to remove the tape until the official protest began at 2 p.m., when a call was made to “break the silence.” The duct tape was used to symbolize the many voices that have been silenced by a system that typically does not allow them to speak up.
“I’m out here today because it matters and needs to be broadcast. As a young black man, despite where I’ve come from and how I was raised, Mike Brown and I are the same,” UM senior Timothy Richardson said. “Why does his zip code, finances, or demographic make him any more of a target than me? I feel it’s important for black people to be aware that times change but people don’t.”
Junior Briana Meneses-Sullivan said,“If you don’t stand for something you stand for nothing, Even if it’s just a few people, it takes an effort to make people consciously aware of what’s going on. Even if it’s not locally, as Americans, every national event affects all of us.”
Over 200 students joined the protest, some to heckle the protesters, but the majority of students came to support the cause. Students from all aspects of campus life were involved and each had their own personal reasons for marching and joining their peers to enact change.
Will Waldon, a graduate student said, “It matters to me because we don’t matter to them.”
“It’s a national movement and a sign of solidarity,” said Jerome Jackson, 3L Miami Law.
Beginning at 2 p.m., students marched around campus carrying signs citing statistics of arrest and murders of African Americans, and other slogans such as “Respect existence or expect resistance” in order to call attention to the disparities in our justice system. While marching, they chanted slogans such as “indict the system” and “black lives matter” in order to raise further awareness. The march began at the Rock. From there they circled the lake and proceeded to march past every school and college on the main campus. This attracted students to join them and also caused students to step outside of their classrooms in order to see what was going on. At the conclusion of the march, the students returned to the Rock where they staged another die in, causing other students to have to circumvent them in order to get to class.
There were also administrators and faculty who attended the event to show their support for the student’s right to peacefully protest.
“This protest is important because it is appropriate that college students are both thought and action leaders on matters related to social justice and fair treatment,” said Dean Hall, Dean of Students. “I’m encouraged by the number of black male students here because we should look to them for guidance or leadership in not only the black community but our broader community.”
Professor and Africana Studies Chair David Ikard said, “I like that the students are organizing but I hope that it doesn’t just become a public display and that it translates into action.”
“I hope this encourages the students to take a look at other initiatives such as voters rights and things on campus. I hope they take a look at how to make things better for their respective communities, ” said Renee Dickens Callan, Director of MSA.
The purpose of the students was to stand together in solidarity and capture the attention of the student body; and that’s exactly what they did. The protest, though peaceful, was ill received by many. Many students turned to the social media site Yik Yak to air their views, often resorting to racial slurs in order to do so. Some of the comments included calling the students “apes,” “c*ons,” and suggesting that someone should “bring in a water hose.”
These comments, and others like it, show that there is still a lot of work to be done, even on a college campus lauded for its diversity. The feelings that have led to demonstrations such as these have been building for years, but the Brown and Garner decisions were the spark that set them off. These feelings aren’t going to go away until African Americans feel that to the rest of the country, black lives actually do matter.
words_Taylor Duckett. photos_ Rhyssa Beckford, Phalande Jean.