Students protest recent Grand Jury decisions
When the decision to not indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo. police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9 of this year, was released last Monday, Dec. 1, Brandeis students responded by posting signs, protesting and having open conversations with University administration over the past week.
Around campus, spray-painted, taped and hand-made signs were posted with messages like “A black person is killed by police or vigilantes once every 28 hours,” “indict America” and “Black Lives Matter.” A sign was posted over the Brandeis University sign that marks the South Street entrance to campus reading “Indict AmeriKKKa” in black and red paint. Pictures of the signage were posted to a Facebook page called “Black Lives Matter Brandeis”—which describes itself with the message “Black Lives Matter at Brandeis. Let’s hold this institution accountable!” in the page’s About section—last Tuesday.
An entry in the weekly media log provided to the Justice by Brandeis University Police documents the removal of the signs. According to the log, last Monday, the officers on patrol noticed a group of males running away from the Rabb steps around 4 a.m. The officers found an upside-down American flag that appeared to have been splattered with blood hung above the Rabb steps. Hung next to it, officers found a banner that quoted W. E. B. DuBois, reading: “A system cannot fail those it was never built to protect.”
Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan explained the officers’ removal of the signage in an email to the Justice. “Several signs were removed from campus exterior location,” he wrote. “The signs were not authorized by the Dean of Student Life which is the university process to follow.”
In an email to the Brandeis community on Thursday, Dean of Students Jamele Adams explained the decision further. “The signs were removed because there was no identifying student connection to them, we were not aware of any students directly involved, and it was a mistaken belief that some or all of the posters had been placed by individuals from outside our Brandeis community,” he wrote. Adams held an informal discussion that same afternoon in the Intercultural Center for students to discuss the removal of the signage. They also discussed the more recent grand jury decision made last week in Staten Island, NY to not indict the police officer who was recorded using an illegal chokehold on Eric Garner, who died as a result of the incident.
By Monday afternoon, the Brandeis community responded once again to the decision in the Ferguson case, holding an organized demonstration in solidarity with Michael Brown and other black men who were killed by police officers.
The demonstration consisted of two parts: a “Walk Out,” during which students were encouraged to walk out of their classes at 12:45 p.m., and a “Die-In,” which was expected to begin on the Rabb steps at 1 p.m. During the Die-In, students spent four and a half minutes lying down silently to represent the four and a half hours Michael Brown’s body was reportedly left on the street before being taken away.
Adams announced the Walk Out and Die-In to the Brandeis community in an email that morning. “This afternoon, students, staff and faculty members may be participating in a national movement” which, he wrote, would include a gathering at the Rabb steps.
The students who organized the Walk Out and Die-In, however—Christian Perry MA ’16 (Heller), Rima Chaudry MA ’16 (Heller) and Malika Imhotep ’15—said in an interview with the Justice that Adams’ email took them by surprise. They had been in communication with members of the Men of Color Alliance, the Women of Color Alliance and the African and Afro-American Studies department while planning the demonstration.
“We, as students at Heller, and students at Brandeis, wanted to do more, and wanted to engage in some way,” Chaudry said. “I think, because of how helpless people are feeling right now in the face of these institutional injustices, people were able to mobilize very quickly.”
As planned, at 12:45 p.m. that day, students gathered on the Rabb steps. They sat until 12:50, when Perry, Chaudry and Imhotep, standing toward the top of the steps, began speaking to the crowd. They called for a four-and-a-half minute long moment of silence and then said, “This is a sit in, so the point is to block these stairs.” They read a statement, then asked each person to turn to the person next to them, introduce themselves and talk about “why this is an important topic for them and why they are here.”
After those in the crowd had a chance to speak to those around them, the organizers chanted to the crowd and asked that as those gathered repeat back to them: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
At 12:57 p.m., the Die-In began—the participants lay down for four and a half minutes in silence while the organizers read the names of several victims of police killings and racial violence, followed by “your friend, your brother, your sister, your niece, your nephew.”
At 1:02 p.m., the organizers announced: “Remain or go, but I ask that you continue to reflect all day, or all week, on the lives that have been lost and the lives that will continue to be lost if we don’t take action now.” Most of the demonstrators began to slowly get up from their places and leave the steps.
Perry, Chaudry and Imhotep hope that the momentum continues on campus from the Walk Out and Die In.
Looking forward, Perry questioned, “What is your college or campus doing to address racial inequalities, obviously that goes as far up as administration representation, faculty/staff representation, the university as a whole on a campus, as well as the curriculum.”
Beyond the college sphere, Perry said that they are thinking about their efforts in a city and state context and in a national context as well—toward making sure that “there are systems in place to ensure that the police and the systems are protected on a level that ensures equality for all.”
“These are not one-offs, these are systemic problems,” Chaudry said of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. “These are the two names that are in the news right now, and there are countless names that don’t make it to that level.”
“It’s impossible for me to divorce police violence toward people of color from general attitudes about anti-blackness and how they pervade our culture, and I think that’s definitely something that plays out on this campus, and we have to keep pushing,” Imhotep said.
Looking forward, Imhotep said that there will be challenges in effecting change on campus. “Racism and the psychosocial implications of that aren’t something you can debate on legal grounds, and I think it’s going to be important for any organizing that happens from this point forward that there are things at play in the way we look at each other, the way we see each other.”