Two weeks after Michael Brown, who was to begin his first year at Vatterott College this fall, was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson as he was walking down the street with a friend, a coalition of racial justice activists and community organizers across the country coordinated a nationwide student walkout, dubbed on Twitter as the #HandsUpWalkOut day of action.
Organizations including the Dream Defenders and the Organization for Black Struggle, along with groups that have formed in the two weeks since protests started in Ferguson, sent out calls via Twitter and several newly created websites, asking students to walk out of class Monday, which also happened to be the day of Brown’s funeral, and gather in a central campus location.
— Dwayne A. Mack Ph.D. (@mfcbook) August 25, 2014
The response was huge, and hundreds of students at around ten colleges on Monday walked out of class in solidarity. “We knew immediately that we needed to organize something on our campus,” said Reuben Riggs, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, who along with students from St. Louis University organized one of the most successful walkout events.
“Many of us identify with Mike Brown, whether they’re young Black men or trans people of color,” Riggs told RH Reality Check, noting that many students are targeted and subjected to the same system of oppression that was used to justify Mike Brown’s killing.
Around 300 students and faculty attended the St. Louis walkout, and though they held signs expressing their anger at the lack of justice for Mike Brown and the other young people of color killed in police shootings, the students were silent as they gathered on campus on their first day of classes.
Brown’s father, who attended the funeral of his 18-year-old son that morning, asked that participants turn whatever protest they had planned into a silent vigil or peaceful gathering.
“We march in silence in memory of Mike Brown, and through our silence, we speak our minds in the fight for local and global justice,” said student organizers in a press release on behalf of St. Louis and Washington universities.
— OBS-STL (@OBS_StL) August 25, 2014
At a smaller event 900 miles away, the students at Syracuse University in New York ended their walkout with a community discussion about race and systemic violence. Meeting in the university’s chapel, Syracuse students discussed how the criminalization of youth of color affects access to education. “We talked about how young kids, in preschool or elementary school are getting sent home and expelled in a way that sends a message that kids don’t belong in schools,” said Emelia Armstead, a senior public relations major at Syracuse, who organized the event on her campus along with the school’s Juvenile Urban Multicultural Program (JUMP), a student organization that seeks to increase educational opportunities for underserved youth. Participants at both schools had the sense that students can and should play a role in shaping the debate on police violence and racism in the United States. The St. Louis press release speaks to this:
As students from Washington University and St. Louis University, we seek to amplify not only our voices but also the voices of our community in the call for justice for Mike Brown. [...] By gathering, we memorialize yet another unjust killing of a young black man and make clear our stance that students everywhere must act. We are engaging the issues of our day by stepping away from our computer screens and textbooks and transforming our thoughts into action. Today, we pay respect to the many lives extinguished by unnecessary police violence. Tomorrow, we will continue in the fight for justice and work to reaffirm the value of every single human life.
“Ferguson is Syracuse and Los Angeles. As much as it might be easier to act like this is a St. Louis problem, it’s not. It’s a US problem and it’s everywhere,” said Armstead.
Here are more images from #HandsUpWalkOut events today, taken by Twitter users:
— OBS-STL (@OBS_StL) August 25, 2014
— Reggie Kush (@GoatMouf) August 25, 2014