CLAIRE PARKER, CO-EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Protests have erupted in Ferguson, Missouri and across the nation over the past two weeks after unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by white police officer Darren Wilson on August 9. The case has drawn attention to issues with racial profiling and police brutality, heightening tensions between black communities and law enforcement. Wilson students and alumni have responded to Michael Brown’s death and surrounding issues by taking part in protests.
While the majority of Ferguson residents’ responses to the shooting have taken the form of peaceful demonstrations, violent confrontations between some protesters and law enforcement have quickly turned the St. Louis suburb into a scene of chaos. Some have drawn parallels to confrontations of the Civil Rights era, as the Ferguson police force’s use of tear gas against protesters echoes the Birmingham police force’s use of water hoses and other violent tactics in 1963.
In contrast, responses to Michael Brown’s death in D.C. remained peaceful. At Howard University, students took a photo that quickly went viral and came to symbolize the issues Michael Brown’s death have brought to attention. The photo shows shows a crowd of Howard students with their hands in the air, with the caption “Don’t shoot,” mirroring the action Brown supposedly took when facing the police officer.
On August 14, more than 800 Washingtonians, including Wilson junior Ellice Ellis, took part in a protest as part of National Moment of Silence 2014, a nationwide movement organized by activist and popular ‘Black twitter’ user Feminista Jones. The movement, publicized using the hashtag #NMOS14, was meant to unite the country in a moment of silence for Michael Brown and other victims of police brutality, and culminated in 119 vigils and protests across the nation on August 13 and 14.
Ellis, who has friends and family who have experienced racial profiling, said she decided to protest because, “I feel as if the police, whose job is to protect and serve the people, are doing nothing but the exact opposite, and I have come to realize that something similar to [the shooting of Michael Brown] could happen right here in D.C. or to one of my fellow classmates if something doesn’t change.”
Ellis and fellow D.C. protesters kicked off the protest at Malcolm X park, then marched to U Street and finally to Chinatown, holding signs and chanting phrases such as “ No Justice, No Peace” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” According to Ellis, police officers were present at the protest but only guided traffic and protesters as they marched. All races were represented at the event, and age groups ranged from young children and parents, to college students, to elderly community leaders.
“Amongst the different races and age groups there was really a feeling of solidarity,” said Ellis. “One of the most empowering parts of the protest was to see more than black faces supporting this cause — it really reinforced the fact that this is not just a black or minority issue but that this is a human issue that all Americans should be aware of and care about.”
“When I found out about Mike Brown I was devastated. This young man could have been me, going to college just like me — my age, my color,” said recent Wilson graduate D’Mani Harrison-Porter, now attending Morehouse College. He joined around 1,000 others protesting outside of the CNN center in downtown Atlanta on August 18. “I knew that this was the civil rights movement of this generation and I couldn’t just sit by,” Harrison-Porter said. He held a sign that read, “I am not a target. I am a man!!” alongside John Lewis, a famous civil rights leader who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
What will come out of these protests? “I hope that with the protests and responses to the situation, the police officer who killed Michael Brown will be thoroughly investigated and held accountable for his actions,” Ellis said, “and that not only the Ferguson Police Department but police all over the nation will take a deep look into their procedures on brutality and racial profiling, and that the criminalization of blacks in the media and in everyday life will stop so events like these don’t happen again.”
Photo by Rosie Cohen