Students and faculty gathered on the Law Quadrangle Friday afternoon to show their solidarity with protestors across the country who are rallying for justice in the killings of two unarmed Black men at the hands of police.
Recent protests were spurred nationwide by a grand jury’s decision last month not to indict the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who fatally shot teenager Michael Brown. Protests continued this week after a New York grand jury decided not to charge the officer that killed 43-year-old Eric Garner while holding him in a chokehold.
On the Law Quad, participants were photographed displaying the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture that has become a symbol of the movement nationwide. They also laid on the ground in the Law Library for four and a half minutes in a staged “die-in,” intended to represent the number of hours Brown’s body lay on the street after he was killed.
Students from the University’s Black Law Student Association organized Friday’s event. The demonstration followed a larger vigil on the Diag last week, which was attended by over 1,000 students, faculty and members of the community.
Friday, more than 200 people registered for the event on the group’s Facebook page and more than one hundred students turned out on the Law Quad.
Law student Emerson Girardeau III, co-chair of the Black Law Student Association, said the student group wanted to create a space for University students to voice their opposition to police brutality and express solidarity with protestors across the nation.
Girardeau said the goal of the picture and die-in was to raise awareness about the issue of police killings.
“There are still a lot of students across the campus and people across the country that are unaware and unconcerned about what’s going on,” he said. “It takes protests and it takes people voicing those concerns to make people aware.”
Britney Littles, another co-chair of the organization, stressed the importance of holding the event at the Law School, as the issue revolves around a grand jury’s decision not to indict the officers responsible for shooting Brown and placing Garner in a fatal chokehold.
“As attorneys, we have to go out and do the work that make sure these injustices don’t happen,” Littles said. “Even if you decide to go to work at a law firm, whatever the case may be, we still have a responsibility to care about what’s happening in this nation and make a change.”
Law School Prof. Samuel Gross also said the holding the event at the law school highlighted the significance of the legal system in the situation. He said change can be fostered through the nationwide attention following the protests around the country, though he said the change should occur by improving law enforcement training, especially when working with minority groups that are more frequently subject to brutality.
Though he expressed hope in bringing change through peaceful protesting, he noted the country’s fragmented policing system could pose problems in implementing new policies.
Like many government institutions, the criminal justice system is decentralized and locally run. Each local area has it’s own set of police forces, ranging from very large forces in metropolitan cities such as New York or Chicago to places that have only a few officers.
Because every state and local area has its own criminal code and policies surrounding police training, Gross said achieving nationwide change could be a challenge.
“Getting practices to change across the entire country is very hard and takes quite a lot of time,” he said.
Business graduate student Stefanie Thomas said she attended Friday’s event to bring awareness to what she called a racially biased police system and give voice to the underrepresented minorities most affected by the bias.
“Regardless of your ethnicity, your race, you’re interacting with police or law enforcement,” Thomas said. “They’re job is to protect and serve, I think that people should not feel threatened by it.”
LSA freshman Hadiya Williams also said she wanted to bring awareness to the issue on campus in an effort to reshape the justice system and police training.
“Things are going to change, it’s not going to get swept up under the rug,” she said. “We’re going to protest things and let our voice be heard.”
Graduate students Tara Dosum Diener and Jasimen Bailey were solemn after the event. Bailey was moved to tears.
Diener expressed the difficulty in having to explain to her children why the officers were not indicted.
“This cannot keep happening, and it happened again today,” she said. “This is ridiculous.”