Long rows of paper lanterns lined the Law Quad’s stone pathways Thursday night, each marked with a name and number written in black marker.
Thaddeus McCarroll’s name was written on a lantern positioned between the Law Library and South University Avenue. Other paper lanterns illuminated the names of Tevin Barkley, Donald Allen and Angelo West, three more of the 384 individuals killed by police in 2015. Freddie Gray — the 25-year-old Black man who died earlier this month while in police custody and whose death sparked protests and outrage in Baltimore this week — was number 349.
By dusk, 384 lanterns illuminated the Law Quad. Law students and other members of the University community stretched the depth of the Law Quad to observe a moment of silence for victims of police brutality and to stand in solidarity with protestors in Baltimore and across the country.
Law student Kya Henley, who helped organize the #MichigantoBaltimore vigil and co-chairs the Law School’s Racial Justice Coalition, said student groups will keep holding vigils, marches and die-ins as long as police brutality continues.
“Police brutality isn’t something that started last week, last month or even last year, so this is really just to show our solidarity with all of the people who are on these bags and this is a problem that has been going on for a long time and we hope that we continue to stand and shed light on this issue and demand justice,” she told the crowd.
Henley is from Baltimore and said she has tried to be engaged in the recent events in her city despite her remote location, spending the last week monitoring social media and checking in with friends and family back home.
“This really hit home for me,” she said. “I remember feeling extremely heartbroken and extremely upset at the lack of answers by the local government in Baltimore.”
Friday, a Baltimore prosecutor charged six officers in Gray’s death.
Henley said it is also critical to understand the broader context that helped give way to this week’s unrest. In recent days, Baltimore has experienced peaceful protests, but also arson and looting in neighborhoods Henley said are marked by boarded up houses and unemployment, among other issues. She said many of the residents there feel disenfranchised and frustrated.
“Thus far, the people have been destructive, but they’ve been destructive toward private property … they haven’t been destructive toward people,” she said. “The only people who have been destructive toward people have been the police … I would never condone violence, but I also can’t condemn it either. These people are extremely frustrated. They’ve been left out of the American dream.”
While waiting in line for a paper lantern, Law student Brittany Gregory noted that student groups have increased their efforts this semester to draw attention to these issues.
“I think showing support’s always important, right? Even though we can’t directly go there and directly impact what’s going on, showing our support, learning more about it, that’s going to help open discussion, and that’s what we need right now,” she said.
Rackham student Austin McCoy, one of the event’s organizers, noted the student body community’s increasing capacity to mobilize and engage in these conversations.
Last semester, students organized several “die-in” demonstrations across campus, including one held outside the Crisler Center as graduates and their families exited Winter Commencement.
“I think students here are politicized in a way they haven’t been in the last several years, so there’s an infrastructure, and I think students will continue to organize,” McCoy said.
Henley said though student engagement has been impressive, room remains for growth, especially when considering the obstacles ahead for achieving police reforms such as retraining police officers to follow different protocol.
“I would love to see more,” she said. “I think that there can always be more discussion. I think that we have a long road ahead of us, but unfortunately … race can be a very taboo issue that makes people uncomfortable, so I think if we can get over the uncomfortability, and really broach the issue, then we can get real discussion on it and discussion can lead to real solutions.”