Two months after unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot by a police officer, 17 Georgetown students travelled to Ferguson, Mo., for the Ferguson October march last weekend, participating in teach-ins and other protests against police brutality and racism.
The students reflected on their experiences during the “Weekend of Resistance” at a discussion group hosted by the Black Leadership Forum, Center for Social Justice, and Program on Justice and Peace in the Intercultural Center on Monday.
GU NAACP President Mikaela Ferrill (COL ’15), who went on the trip, said that she was moved by the solidarity between different groups of protesters.
“Being in the march on Sunday with people of different types of abilities, colors, genders, ages — that was really, really important,” Ferrill said. “I’ve always been interested in coalition building. … One of the best parts of my weekend was seeing solidarity in action.”
The trip was funded by the CSJ and the Office Affirmative Action Programs. The marchers also received about $1,000 in donations through fundraising efforts in Red Square. Participation was open to anyone who wanted to attend.
The weekend of resistance was a part of Ferguson October, a series of protests, marches and panels hosted by Hands Up United, Organization for Black Struggle and Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment. Forty-nine participants were arrested during the weekend.
The Georgetown participants belonged to the Georgetown chapter of the NAACP, Black Student Alliance, Program on Justice and Peace, Patrick Healy Fellowship, Georgetown Solidarity Committee and United Feminists.
Michael Martin (COL ’17) said that he went on the trip in order to gain a better understanding of the situation in Ferguson and to express his frustrations.
“The amount of energy and passion the people of Ferguson had and put together as a community was amazing, it was sort of inspirational,” Martin wrote in an email. “Now I want to make sure my peers and I bring back that same energy and passion and help to educate the students of Georgetown about the seriousness of police brutality in America and how it is detrimental to our society.”
LaDarius Torrey (COL ’17) also said that the trip widened his perspective on racism and police brutality.
“Being there made me realize just how serious and real the issues of the American structure are,” Torrey said. “From that standpoint, it’s greatly disheartening. After coming back from Ferguson, I personally feel obligated to continue to combat injustices and strive for true equality and unity as well.”
Attendee Crystal Walker (SFS ’16) said that she was both inspired by the commitment of the protestors and amazed at the rift between the citizens of Ferguson and the police.
“People are trying to give the police the benefit of the doubt, but in reality I spoke to people who have been there for over 20 years,” Walker said. “There has always been pressure between us and the police, and I feel like Mike Brown’s death was the last point.”
Walker said she was impressed and humbled by those who continued to protest, regardless of poor weather conditions.
“It’s so great to see people who’ve been out there every single night. … It was cold the night we were there and people were still out there, it rains and people are still out there, it’s going to snow soon and people will still be out there,” Walker said. “I think that’s what’s so powerful about Ferguson, that this was the last straw.”
David Ragland, a visiting assistant professor of education at Bucknell University, spoke at Monday’s event and focused on the necessity of solidarity. Ragland discussed the links between different social justice issues and the situation in Ferguson.
“People’s identities are constantly violated, there’s police brutality, the school-to-prison pipeline,” Ragland said. “We see large movements like the ecological movement connected to what’s happening in Ferguson, because who are the first people who are victims of climate change? Poor folks. People of color.”
Ragland said that he was moved by the chants spoken by the protestors.
“I think it’s important for us to see all of the structural violence as unjust but also at root a violation of human dignity,” Ragland said. “One of the chants that stuck with me when I was out there was ‘The whole damn system is guilty as hell.’ We are really all complicit.”
Ayo Aruleba (COL ’17), who also attended the march, said that a powerful moment during the weekend was when the group of protestors addressed Ferguson police.
“One of the chants that resonated with me was, ‘Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.’ Having the opportunity to stand outside the Ferguson police department … to tell them how we feel about the structure, speak to police officers themselves made me appreciate democracy more,” Aruleba said.
Michael Martin (COL ’17), expressed disappointment at the lack of knowledge on the situation in Ferguson that his peers revealed after his return to campus.
“It was amazing seeing all the people in Ferguson coming out to all of these events … to be with people with the same values,” Martin said. “Then you come back to Georgetown, and these are people who could potentially be leading the world one day. … We had these signs in our hands that we got at the protests, and as we were in the elevator [of LXR], this kid comes up to me and he’s like ‘Oh, who’s Mike Brown?’”
CSJ Executive Director Andria Wisler responded to Martin’s desire to spread knowledge on the issue on campus by relating it to Georgetown’s Jesuit values. She said she encouraged the students to talk about their experiences in Ferguson in all of their classes in order to spread awareness.
“Something I learned that’s very Jesuit, is to give people the benefit of the doubt,” Wisler said. “St. Ignatius talked about this idea, that if people don’t know about something that you care a lot about, you have to meet them there and you have to meet them with love. You give them the benefit of the doubt, and the fact of what you’re saying … You meet them and you tell them what it is.”
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