On Friday September 12th, on the Doble campus, Students for Social Justice held a vigil for Michael Brown, the young black man who was gunned down by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th. Dean Mary Coleman led a discussion about the murder, posing difficult questions such as “What justifies homicide? Who keeps tabs on the actions of police officers? Would it be different if the officer were black?” These questions have arisen in light of the protests and riots that broke out in Ferguson in the days and weeks after the shooting, resulting in arrests and injuries, and turning the city into more of a war zone than a community.
Dean Coleman touched upon a certain detail of the Ferguson case that shocked and outraged many— the fact that Michael Brown’s body was left in the street for four hours after he was shot and killed. “We would have covered up a stray dog,” she explained, “There’s something very inhumane about leaving a body in the street for four hours … I think that when police officers are faced with situations like Ferguson, black and brown bodies can be discounted, that’s my suspicion.” Dean Coleman’s words summarize feelings that a lot of people have about what’s happening in Ferguson— feelings of injustice and racial discrimination that lead to protests and vigils such as this one.
Provost Selase Williams took to the podium next, and called upon all of us to “put this case in perspective.”
“Do I mourn the death of Michael Brown? Yes, I do,” he said, “But I mourn more for the silent brutality and violence that is perpetrated upon black and Latino people every day … What is happening in Ferguson today can happen anywhere in America, can happen in Boston, can happen in Cambridge. We as a country have not yet made nearly as much progress as we think we have.”
Provost Williams cited to us some very sobering statistics that hold true in America today: The median income for white households is $57,000. For black households, it’s $33,000. Those living below the poverty line in white communities: 9.7%. In black communities? 27.2%. White unemployment in this country is 6%. “Guess what the unemployment rate is among the black population?” he asked. A member of the audience guessed 12%. “13.1%,” he replied. “Until the walls that separate the haves and have-nots are torn down, there will continue to be acts of violence and brutality against people of color, especially young men of color.”
Candles were lit while the audience stood for the Negro National Anthem. The crowd dispersed soon after, but the atmosphere was somber, and you could still feel the weight of the words that were said. Something that stuck in my mind in particular was Dean Coleman’s call to arms: “We need to claim our civil liberties, we need to express more outrage…”