MICHELLE XU/THE HOYA In response to the federal grand jury’s decision in the Ferguson, Mo. case, demonstrators took to Red Square, the White House and the city at large.
MICHELLE XU/THE HOYA
In response to the federal grand jury’s decision in the Ferguson, Mo. case, demonstrators took to Red Square, the White House and the city at large.

The Georgetown University Black Leadership Forum mounted a Week of Action this week to reflect on recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and draw attention to racial and criminal justice issues following a week of protests in Washington, D.C., that included a march in Georgetown last Saturday.

Almost 200 students took part in the Week of Action to protest the St. Louis grand jury’s Nov. 24 decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

The Week of Action consisted of a walkout and 4.5 minutes of silence in Red Square beginning at 1:07 p.m. on Monday, the time of Brown’s shooting in August; a Day of Action to Stop Police Brutality on Wednesday, where participants contacted elected officials calling for reform in police practices, including the demilitarization of U.S. law enforcement and the mandated front-facing body cameras while on duty; and an HIV screening and letter writing campaign to Michael Brown’s family, followed by a Black Student Alliance Kwanzaa Dinner on Thursday.

On Friday, participants will engage in Freedom Friday, a day of “civil disobedience and demonstration,” according to the Facebook event.

Georgetown NAACP President Mikaela Ferrill (COL ’15) identified the dual educational and practical aims of the Week of Action.

“Being taught in the classroom is very important. Sometimes being in people’s face about things is a great strategy to bring issues to the forefront, and so that’s been kind of why we have a mixture of both educational components and visual demonstrations, because sometimes you need to bring demonstrations to people for them to actually see and understand what’s going on,” she said.

Khadijah Davis (NHS ’15), president of GU Women of Color and a member of the GU Black Leadership Forum, said that the Week of Action, which was inspired by demonstrations happening nationwide since August, was intended as a means to continue the conversation about race and justice on campus.

“We are ultimately hoping to encourage both campus-wide dialogue and compassion for each other,” Davis wrote in an email. “Many members of our campus community need a time to talk, a time to engage in open discourse with one another. We needed a time to conceptualize the gravity of the situation in Ferguson and the hundreds like it, and a time to heal.”

Davis said that the events this week were planned to open up a safe space on campus to talk about the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in August and other issues of race across the country.

Coinciding with the Week of Action was the decision of a Staten Island grand jury on Thursday not to indict a white New York police officer in the death by chokehold of 43-year-old Eric Garner, which incited further protests around the country and in the District.

“All of the events were planned with the intention to create a safe space on campus to talk about the incredibly heartbreaking and traumatizing events taking place in our country. The killing of Mike Brown is not an isolated incident. There are Mike Browns in all of our states and in many of our cities,” Davis wrote. “With them and the hundreds of others in mind, we wanted to plan these events to finally give people the space to talk with an open heart and mind and to think actively about how we can help salvage our communities all across the country.”

Despite the high levels of participation in the Week of Action, BLF members faced opposition as well. A collage including photos of people killed by police violence and law enforcement statistics, which was hung in Red Square on Monday, was torn down on Wednesday around 5 p.m. After being reposted, the collage was again torn down.

“Following the candlelight vigil on Wednesday night, over 50 students gathered in Red Square on Wednesday night to hang up the poster in solidarity for a third time,” Esther Owolabi (COL ’15), a member of the BLF and a convener of the Patrick Healy Fellowship, said. “There is no camera footage of the perpetrators.”

History professor Marcia Chatelain, who started the Twitter hashtag #FergusonSyllabus and has been active in campus conversation on the issue, underlined the importance of reflecting on and learning from the issues raised by Ferguson.

“As people on the ground in Ferguson are being tear gassed and their rights not respected, the least we can do at a college campus is learn and grow together in learning about the political and social contexts that have created Ferguson,” she wrote in an email.

ISABEL BINAMIRA/THE HOYA Protesters staged a walk-out on Monday at 1:07 p.m., the time of Brown's shooting.
ISABEL BINAMIRA/THE HOYA
Protesters staged a walk-out on Monday at 1:07 p.m., the time of Brown’s shooting.

The week of discussion on campus follows a series of protests in the District immediately after the grand jury decision, organized without central planning and largely through social media under the hashtag #DCFerguson, aided by multiple city coalitions including Hands Up Coalition D.C. and One D.C. Among the protests was a “Boycott Georgetown” march on Saturday in which protesters marched up M Street from the Foggy Bottom Metro station.

Crystal Walker (SFS ’16), who traveled with a delegation of Georgetown students to Ferguson in October, ran into the protest on her return to campus this weekend and recognized organizers from her trip to Ferguson.

“It was great to just be there and — I haven’t been able to go to anything since then — but it was really great to see them there and follow on social media what the different coalitions and groups are doing, because it kind of shows the solidarity that what happened in Ferguson is not just a Ferguson problem. It’s an American problem,” she said.

The Georgetown protest follows previous marches outside the White House on Nov. 24 and at Mount Vernon Square on Nov. 25, both of which were attended by Georgetown students.

In addition to the Week of Action and the off-campus protests, Georgetown students and faculty have engaged in discussions on campus throughout the semester in an attempt to address race, the law and police brutality, including a vigil and panel in August. Ferrill expressed gratitude for the administration’s response to promote open dialogue.

“The faculty is doing a great job, but even the administration, [said] a few words on post-non-indictment. [University President John J. DeGioia] — he supported us at the vigil and that was really important and we want to continue the administration’s involvement in these issues because they affect the larger community here at Georgetown,” Ferrill said.

The university has not released a statement on the event, though the Law Center hosted a panel on Wednesday reflecting on the grand jury decision, featuring Chatelain and former federal professor and current law professor Paul Butler. Additionally, sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson, who drew attention for his debate with Rudy Giuliani on “Meet the Press” in advance of the grand jury decision, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times.

Center for Multicultural Equity and Access Director Charlene Brown-McKenzie noted that the role of administrators was primarily in the background, supporting the reflection of students.

“Our focus is supporting students as they react and respond on how the events in Ferguson challenges us to examine social justices issues,” Brown-McKenzie wrote in an email.

The BLF also held a silent demonstration in Red Square on Nov. 25 in protest of the jury’s decision, and the BLF co-hosted a discussion panel with the Center for Social Justice and the Program for Justice and Peace reflecting on the “Weekend of Resistance” in Ferguson, after 17 Georgetown students travelled to Ferguson for the weekend to participate in the protests in October.

Davis said that the events of the Week of Action, while similar to previous events on Ferguson, will focus more on action-based demonstrations. She did not comment about what the future of the movement would hold.

“In many ways, these events are all similar in that they have combined the efforts of both students and administrators,” Davis wrote. “These conversations appealed more to the emotional gravity of the situation and help us begin campus conversations on race. As the name implies, this week will involve more action, in addition to a time to reflect.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

7 Comments

  1. 1. There is nothing written in the US constituion guaranteeing a “civil right” for young black males to steal, assault and disobey law enforcement. The only civil rights that were violated were those of Officer Wilson. This man’s life is now in shambles because he did his job. He can no longer work as a public servant, nor can he even show his face in public. Officer Wilson is portrayed as the bad guy, while the family of Michael Brown is shown on national TV encouraging destruction of the community with no public reprimand.
    The most disturbing and sad aspect of the whole situation is the ignorance of not just the black activists, but also the white liberals. Justice was served long before the grand jury made a decision. Michael Brown made the decision, not the grand jury. His parents should be outraged because their son was not the “gentle giant” they thought he was. Unfortunately, situations like this will surely happen again. It was a tragedy that a young man lost his life, but the real tragedy is the lack of common sense, morality and indivual accountability in the black community. The law was followed and a decision was made. Deal with it, move one and rise up against the thugs who are destroying our way of life, not those who are fighting to protect it.
    As for the protestors across the USA, where is the line drawn between making a point and causing criminal acts? Blocking highways and intersections to protest civil right violations causes gridlock, inconvenience and anger. Protesters are violating the rights of those who wish to travel freely. How is this acceptable? How does inconveniencing the general public help your cause? The level of ignorance surrounding this entire matter from day one is sickening and unbelievable. Protests such as those that we’ve seen are pointless and will only serve to work against those trying to affect change.
    Protesting will not solve the problem. We need parents to teach respect, morals and values to our children. We must teach our children to do the right thing, not to find fault with what is wrong. This is only a matter of race because black activists make it so. What if it had been a black officer and a white victim? What if it were an Asian or a Hispanic? Does it really matter? A crime was committed and a police officer who was sworn to protect and serve the community did his job. There is a system in place to ensure justice. The system worked. And now, for those who choose to use this as reason to cause violence and destruction, you too will find out how the justice system works when you are arrested and removed from society.

  2. The invincible ignorance re Ferguson on campus now reaches Gilbert and Sullivan slapstick hilarity.

  3. The idea that *alleged* criminals suddenly don’t have rights in this country is laughable. And its even funnier, because the notion only comes up with the accused is black.

    Our core principles, as documented in the very basic Bill of Rights provide ALL people the right to a speedy trial BY JURY, which is supposed to determine guilt or innocence, NOT a police officer with a loaded gun. There is also ALWAYS supposed to be the presumption of innocence until guilt is PROVEN IN COURT. Police officers are not supposed to be the jury, judge, AND executioner.

    Riddle me this. How can one prove someone’s guilt if they are dead in the middle of the street? How can someone defend themselves in a court when there are 6 bullets pumped into their body, two of which went through their head to guarantee their silence? And why was so much of Amerikkka so eager to give this presumption of innocence to Darren Wilson who left a human being on the street exposed to an entire community for 4.5 hours and washed away evidence but NOT to Mike Brown, who may or may not have had an altercation with Wilson?

    But, I suppose it is true. “A system cannot fail those it was never built to protect”, right? These laws really weren’t made for all Americans, especially the ones that were “once” considered three-fifths of a person.

    (BTW, the protestors purportedly inconveniencing people also have the RIGHT TO ASSEMBLE.)

    • Kit Marlowe says:

      Are you actually arguing that Policeman Wilson should have done nothing whatever to stop Michael Brown from reaching him and possibly beating him to death so that Brown could have a chance in court to tell his side of the story? And just one more thing: yes, of course you have a right to assemble but you do not have the right to disrupt or inconvenience the lives of others, especially those who have absolutely nothing to do with Brown’s tragic death.

      • At no point did I say Darren Wilson should have done “nothing”. There are a LOT of options in between “nothing” and shooting someone 6+ times.

        That’s an overkill. That’s inhumane.

        It’s interesting. The fact that he saw killing someone – because that’s pretty much all that will come out of shooting someone in the head twice – as his only option to “neutralize the situation” is a huge part of the problem. In other countries, like the UK, police officers don’t even carry guns and still figure it out.

        Perhaps he could have used a less-lethal taser? Oh right, that was too “uncomfortable” to carry on a regular basis. But a gun wasn’t? Where on earth do they do that at? America.

        Just think about this. Why are these choices made on behalf of police officers not being interrogated and corrected? Why are non-lethal options along use-of-force continuums “optional,” but guns are not?

        To your second point, as Americans, we should ALL have something to do with assuring justice for one another. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Those who are willing to ignore inequities and mistreatment of others are a part the problem. They allow it to perpetuate. Their indifference is a piece of an oppressive systemic pie that allows this to keep happening. Their indifference has every right to be challenged and inconvenienced. Their thoughts or lack there of need to be disrupted. Take a different route.

  4. And so where were the protests about this:

    “Gilbert Collar, a white, unarmed 18-year-old under the influence of drugs was shot and killed Oct. 6, 2012, by Officer Trevis Austin, who is black, in Mobile, Alabama. Despite public pressure for an indictment, a Mobile County grand jury refused to bring charges against Officer Austin, concluding that the officer acted in self-defense.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*