UB students 'make noise' in wake of Ferguson grand jury decision
Small group of students respond to officer not being indicted
The Student Union became even louder with voices than usual on Tuesday afternoon, and then fell nearly silent.
Several students loudly chanted “R.I.P Michael Brown,” in the center of the Union before holding hands in a circle as a moment of silence for the late Ferguson, Missouri teenager.
A group of approximately 20 students marched on North Campus Tuesday afternoon in protest of a St. Louis grand jury’s decision on Monday night to not indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in the death of Brown, a black 18-year-old.
Wilson fatally shot Brown six times on Aug. 9, 2014 after the two were involved in an altercation. Brown was unarmed at the time of the shooting. Brown’s death and the subsequent grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson has sparked debate and protests throughout the country, particularly in Ferguson where some protests turned violent on Monday night.
The group of UB students – who promoted a peaceful protest – walked through North Campus in the light rain and wind chanting “No Justice. No Peace,” and “Don’t shoot. Hands up,” while holding signs that read, “black lives matter” and “you have the power to be the change.” Several onlookers pulled out their phones to take video and one Stampede bus driver honked the bus horn to show support.
“I think there’s power in numbers and there’s power in visibility,” said a student protester who did not want to be named. “It’s important for the UB campus to know that folks are concerned about this so they can learn more themselves if they’re not yet invested in the issue.”
Junior political science and urban and public policy major Madelaine Britt* and sophomore English major Samaya Abdus-Salaam* began organizing the march Monday night after hearing Wilson would not be indicted in Brown’s death.
“Even though it’s short notice it’s something that needs to be done just to show that people are willing to do something over injustice,” said Isaiah Davis, a junior English and philosophy major.
Protestors, like Davis, opposed the jury’s decision not to indict Wilson and worries it will set a precedent in future cases involving police shootings.
The jury, which was composed of nine white people and three black people, met on 25 days over three months and heard more than 70 hours of testimony from about 60 witnesses. Ultimately, the jury decided not to bring charges against Wilson.
“I think it’s necessary [for an indictment] or there should be some repercussion,” said Cheyenne Ketter-Franklin, a sophomore business major.
That’s what led Ketter-Franklin to march through North Campus Tuesday.
St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCullough said in a news conference Monday night that Wilson could have faced charges from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.
Chloe Higginbotham, a graduate student who teaches immigration and film classes, said the jury’s decision not to indict Wilson should lead to changes in how police offers are allowed to use force.
“It makes me question what the law is that allows for there to be no indictment,” Higginbotham said. “I’m worried about the law that makes [Wilson’s] actions legal.”
Davis said he participated in the march partly because he thinks relationships between police officers and minority figures need to change.
“I’m going to have a son some day so why am I going to watch my son go through what I’m taught?” Davis said. “I don’t want my child to have that fear growing up that if you walk past a police officer you might scare them.”
While students held a peaceful protest on campus Tuesday, some violent protests broke out in Ferguson Monday night. There were reports of property damage and looting, and planes were not permitted to land at Lambert-St. Louis International airport because of the riots.
Some UB students protesting Tuesday disagreed with the violent protests and said it counteracted the effort to make a change in the legal system.
“Nobody’s scared of somebody who throws a tantrum,” Davis said. “When you see a child who throws a tantrum, you don’t fear them. You put them in their place.”
Davis said peaceful protests are more effective because they are within a person’s rights and cannot be shut down by authorities.
Ketter-Franklin said that although she was disappointed with the violent protests in Ferguson, she was also upset with the media for its coverage of the events, saying the media was “sensationalizing.”
“I’m mad people are doing that, but I’m even more mad at the media for only covering that,” she said.
Ketter-Franklin said solely focusing the destruction of the violent protests takes attention away from Brown’s death and changing policy.
“Hopefully with protests like these, even though they’re smaller, can counteract any of the negative looting and vandalism going on,” Ketter-Franklin said.
Britt said her and Abdus-Salaam’s intention for the march was to bring attention to Brown’s death and the issues in Ferguson in order to create discussion.
“We just really want to push education and getting people to read about these issues,” Britt said.
Britt and Abdus-Salaam said they hope to hold another march or rally after Thanksgiving break when more students will be on campus. Abdus-Salaam referenced Brown’s parent’s statement after the announcement Wilson would not be indicted, that ended by saying, “Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.”
“I think that’s what we need to do because we made some noise today,” Britt said.
* Full disclosure: Samaya Abdus-Salaam is a current Spectrum editor. Madelaine Britt worked for The Spectrum last semester.