(pictured above: Kenny Brown speaks as Olivia Sedwick and Mona Zahir look on.)
In the wake of the killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., Winston-Salem State University held a moment of silence for those who’ve been affected by police violence.
The campus event was one of hundreds held around the country and beyond last Thursday in response to the Aug. 9 death of Mike Brown, an 18-year-old African American who was shot at least six times by white police officer Darren Wilson in the St. Louis-area community. His death has sparked days of protests and uprisings in Ferguson.
Brown’s death has particular resonated with college students, said WSSU Student-Government Association President Olivia Sedwick
“It could have been any one of us; it could have been any community in the world; it could have been any young black person, any person, period, that this could have happened to,” she said. “The people are, quiet frankly, fed up, and the students really feel this pain.”
Details about what led to Brown’s death are sketchy. It is believed the shooting was sparked by Brown’s walking on a street instead of on a sidewalk. The National Guard has been called into Ferguson, a curfew was put into place last week and even the start of the school year has been delayed in the largely African American city.
There was peace and calm at the WSSU gathering. Students assembled near the school’s looming clock tower to hear words from Sedwick and Mona Zahir, who read the names of those who recently died at the hands of law enforcement. Eric Garner’s names was included. He died last month when a New York City police officer placed him in a choke hold during a confrontation about untaxed cigarettes. In recent weeks, John Crawford, 22, was also shot and killed by cops in a suburban Ohio Wal-Mart. It is believed police mistook one of the store’s toy guns that Crawford was holding as the real thing.
WSSU SGA Vice President Kenny Brown, no relation to Michael Brown, told attendees they have to band together to create change.
“I’ve seen all you on social media talk about the Civil Rights Movement and how we should start it back,” he said. “A key component to the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s and ’70s was unity. We have to unify in each other and that starts in your neighborhoods.”
The moment of silence movement was conceived early last week by a New York activist who goes by the Twitter handle “Feminista Jones.” The idea circulated through social media. WSSU students made the decision to take part just hours before last Thursday’s event started. Classes had not yet started, so only freshmen and a few upperclass students were on campus. A whirlwind social media push and word-of-mouth campaign managed to attract a crowd of more than 100 students.
Social media posts got Devante Mackins’ attention. The Gastonia native is the school’s Mr. Sophomore and a member of Renaissance Men, a campus male mentoring program. He said he came to show support for the Brown family and disapproval of the way authorities have handled the case.
“They have made no movement … for this thing to stop,” he said. “And they’re basically saying they’re okay with it.”
Eric Johnson also attended. He wears quite a few hats on campus – Sophomore Class vice-president, president pro temp of the Student Senate, Renaissance Men President – and believes the issues of racial profiling and inequality in the justice system are larger than this one death.
“I think it’s bigger than Mike (Brown); I think it’s bigger than Trayvon (Martin); it’s bigger than Troy Davis (a black man who many believe was wrongly executed for killing a white police officer); it’s bigger than Renisha McBride (a young black Detroit woman killed by a white homeowner after she knocked on his door); it’s bigger than Emmett Till,” he said. “It’s a black issue; it’s a social issue. If we don’t get people to stand up for it, then it’ll never get changed.”
WSSU plans to work with the SGA to come up with forums or other events to facilitate discussion of the issues that have come out of the Brown case.