UR students and Rochester community members gathered on Tuesday, Nov. 25 for a second time to protest the decision by a St. Louis County grand jury not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Immediately after the jury’s decision on Monday night, UR students had gathered and marched through campus, passing through Wilson Commons and ITS. On Friday, Nov. 21, before the jury’s decision came out, some students participated in a “die-in” in Wilson Commons to represent the deaths of young African-American men at the hands of police. A die-in is a form of protest in which protesters lie on the ground, simulating death.
On Tuesday, protesters met at 4pm at the intersection of Joseph C. Wilson Boulevard and Elmwood Avenue. A banner was hung off the Intercampus Drive bridge reading “Killer cops must stop #MikeBrown.” Local television reporters and news writers were present.
Also in attendance were several local activist groups, including the Rochester branch of the International Socialist Organization, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Rochester Red & Black, a local anarchist group.
Some University administrators were also present, including Vice President Paul Burgett and Director of Orientation and Associate Director of Advising Services Eleanor Oi. Oi said that she was “glad there are people out here, doing everything they can to make sure their statements are heard.”
Public Safety and Rochester Police Department officers were present on the opposite side of the street. Officers watched but did not approach protesters during the event.
Before the protest began, senior Natajah Roberts, one of the organizers of the event, gave instructions to the crowd to remain nonviolent and follow the lead of the organizers.
For the first half hour of the protest, participants chanted slogans and held signs. Protest leaders, holding megaphones, cycled through call-and-response chants, including the nationwide mottos “Black lives matter” and “Hands up, don’t shoot,” as well as “Turn up, don’t turn down, we do this for Mike Brown,” “Jim Crow, hell no,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, these racist cops have got to go.”
The protesters ended by chanting “Arrest, convict, send that killer cop to jail, the whole damn system is guilty as hell,” before staging a die-in at the entrance to Wilson Boulevard, blocking the incoming lanes of the street.
Protesters formed a circle to protect those participating in the die-in, who lay in the street during a four-and-a-half-minute-long moment of silence that represented the number of hours Brown’s dead body lay in the street in Ferguson on Aug. 9. Protesters were asked to hold up their hands in a “don’t shoot” pose for the duration of the moment of silence.
After the die-in, the group began to march to Wilson Commons and continued to chant slogans. Some of the student protesters walked through Wallis Hall, chanting, “Show me what democracy looks like; this is what democracy looks like,” while another group went around the building. The entire group then converged on the steps to the Eastman Quadrangle.
After marching into Wilson Commons, the group held another four-and-a-half-minute moment of silence and protesters again held up their hands. Wilson Commons workers and students in the building participated in the silence.
Roberts then spoke to the crowd in Wilson Commons.
Roberts said that it “takes reminding people constantly that this is unjust” to make change and criticized the mass media’s portrayal of the protests in Ferguson, mentioning that “CNN shows one burnt cop car; what they don’t show is the live streams where [police] repeatedly tear gas into crowds of protesters. Thick, visible, clouds of tear gas, constantly, at protesters, and at media. The protesters are not violent. The police are violent, and that is why we are here.”
The group made one final move onto the Wilson Quadrangle, where the group formed a circle and held hands. Organizers stood in the middle of the circle and continued to lead chants. The organizers led the group in one final chant, which they said they had learned from Dhoruba Shakur, a civil rights leader based out of St. Louis: “It is our duty to fight. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
The organizers announced the end of the UR-based protest and invited those who still wanted to protest to continue with them to join other protesters off-campus. Some students and community members marched across the Ford Street bridge and joined protesters at the roundabout at the intersection of Ford Street and Plymouth Avenue.
Reem Kidane of the International Socialist Organization thought that the protest “went very well” and that it was “very powerful to have so many people,” estimating that 300 people showed up. Kidane believes that protests inspired by Ferguson are the “beginning of a new civil rights movement.”
Roberts was also “glad that we had more students and community members” than on Monday night. Roberts said that she and her friends were inspired to lead the protests because they thought that there was a “need to stand up to injustice.”
Senior Makia Green, another organizer of the event, said that she and her friends planned and spread word of the protest through social media outside of campus organizations. Green spread word through a Facebook event called “No Justice No Peace Rally At UofR” that had 271 confirmed attendees on Facebook out of over 3,000 invited.
Senior Anansa Benbow said that she, Green, Roberts, and University alumnus Adrian Elim had traveled to Ferguson over fall break to participate in the protests there. In Ferguson, they met Shakur, who then visited Rochester for a week and spoke at the Flying Squirrel Community Space in the city.
Benbow said that she and the other organizers plan to continue the demonstrations for “as long as the community supports” them. They are planning to start Ferguson Fridays, an event that groups at campuses across the country have already started.
During Ferguson Fridays, the group is planning to hold more die-ins, as well as events featuring music and poetry. Benbow noted that the protests in Ferguson have been continuing for 110 days at press time, the longest sustained protest in recent American history, and she and her friends want to “keep the momentum going.”
Kadir is a member of
the class of 2017.
contributed to reporting.