The Spirit of Ferguson on College Campuses

September 22, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


In the last five or six weeks, since school started on college campuses around the country, many students have jumped into the struggle against police brutality and murder. Much of this has been inspired by the uprising of the people in Ferguson, Missouri, against the police murder of Michael Brown. Students in the New York area have participated in protests around the police chokehold murder of Eric Garner in Staten Island and many students went to Ferguson to stand with the people there to demand justice for Michael Brown. Lots of protests have been organized on campuses, including at historically Black colleges and elite colleges like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and the University of Michigan. On a number of campuses, students have organized mass group photos of students doing the "hands up, don't shoot" pose; students have done YouTube videos and blogs from Ferguson. There have also been panels, teach-ins, and resolutions by students taking up the fight against police murder.

This very significant and welcome development needs to be encouraged and further unleashed as a powerful force in making the October Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, Police Terror, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation have society wide impact.

Following are some of the student protests/actions Revolution/ has learned about:


Howard University. On August 14, more than 300 students posed for a photo with their hands over their heads—in the "hands up, don't shoot" pose—in solidarity with protesters in Ferguson. Soon after this, the photo was tweeted and went viral, re-tweeted nearly 15,000 times. This inspired students to organize similar photo gatherings at many other campuses, including: 500 students at Central State University in Ohio; Harvard, organized by the Harvard Black Law Students Association; Morehouse College (Atlanta); Spelman College (Atlanta); University of Missouri (Columbia); Elon University (Elon, North Carolina); Bethune Cookman University (Daytona Beach, Florida); Northern Kentucky University (Highland Heights); Grambling State University (Grambling, Louisiana); Wright State University (Dayton, Ohio); Duke University (Durham, North Carolina), and the University of Virginia (Charlottesville).

Fists Up! at Columbia University

Columbia University. On September 15, more than 200 students and others rallied to speak out in solidarity with the people of Ferguson. The action was called for by Columbia's Black Law Students Association. Students told stories of degrading, threatening encounters with law enforcement and spoke about the rage they felt about the murder of Michael Brown. The New York Revolution Club called on the students to take a photograph to show the country how they are determined to stand with others to stop mass incarceration, police terror, repression and the criminalization of a generation. Two hundred students took the library steps and someone yelled "Hands up or fists up?" The response was a resounding "FISTS UP!" Someone yelled, "And NO SMILES!" Two days later, about 150 people attended "Now What? The Role of Millennials in the Aftermath of Ferguson," a town hall meeting organized by the Columbia Black Alumni Council, the Harvard Black Alumni Society of New York, and a coalition of Columbia student organizations.

Yale University. When some art students on August 19 began a show of solidarity, a silent march through downtown New Haven, many others joined in. One of the organizers said, "None of us can stay silent about a thing that really affects everyone and Yale is just one of many places that needs to be having this conversation."

Duke University. The Black Men's Union on August 25 released "Hands Up, Don't Shoot," a video featuring Black men students at Duke lifting their hands, newspaper headlines about the police shootings of Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, and Michael Brown, and the question: "How many more must die?" The Black Student Alliance organized a candle-lighting vigil, "Speak Your Peace," to stand in solidarity with Ferguson through poetry, art, and dialogue, and also encouraged the Duke community to wear black on the first day of classes to mark the funeral of Michael Brown.

University of Michigan. The Central Student Government on September 9 introduced a resolution to stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson against police brutality. The proposal noted that "The killing of Michael Brown came less than a month after the brutal New York Police killing by chokehold of an older Black man, Eric Garner and just a week after Los Angeles police beat to death for 10 minutes 37-year-old Latino parent Omar Abrego." It also talked about police brutality on college campuses, citing an incident at the University of California, Berkeley, on November 9, 2011, when Berkeley police "attacked and brutalized a peaceful student demonstration."

North Carolina Central University, Durham

North Carolina Central University. August 25, 2014. Law students at a rally to protest the police killing of Michael Brown at the Turner Law Building at North Carolina Central University, in Durham. (AP Photo/The Herald-Sun, Bernard Thomas)

University of Maryland. Students organized a protest in front of the White House on September 8. After attending a Palestine rally in DC, the vice president of public relations for the Black Student Union (BSU) was inspired to organize the event, together with the Black Alliance Network, a group of student leaders from every Black student organization on campus. She said, "The Palestine rally was so powerful when I went, and I thought it would be awesome if I could get my people together for a cause, and about a month after the Michael Brown incident happened we knew we needed to do something."

Wright State University. On September 4, more than 200 students walked in a "March of Solidarity" for John Crawford, a 22-year-old Black man who was shot by the police in the toy aisle of the Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio, while holding a toy gun.

Central Michigan University. Dozens of students held a protest on August 29 to protest police brutality in light of events in Ferguson.

Ohio University. Students for Law, Justice & Culture coordinated a faculty panel discussion of events in Ferguson on September 11 as part of a series "designed to shed critical light on the socio-economic causes and consequences of mass incarceration and harsh punishment in the U.S. criminal justice system, with special attention to the disproportionately destructive impact of this system upon individuals and communities of color." This event was also inspired by a call by Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, for a "national awakening" when she visited the campus in April 2014.

New York University. On August 29, dozens of students came together for 15 minutes of silence—for a "moment of solidarity, reflection and peace in order to honor the victims of police brutality and racial profiling."

Walkouts. Students organized walkouts at several colleges on the day of Michael Brown's funeral. The word went out on Facebook and Twitter; some used the photo of Howard University students with their hands up; people were encouraged to share photos and videos online, using the hashtag #HandsUpWalkout. The list of schools that had walkouts includes Washington University in St. Louis, George Mason University, Syracuse University, Antioch College, Sewanee, and the University of Kansas.

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