Students gather to protest racism and police brutality

(Kristin LaFratta/ Amherst Wire)

(Kristin LaFratta/ Amherst Wire)

A group of more than 40 students gathered in the rain outside the Campus Center on Wednesday, Oct. 1 to support “UMass Speaks Out: Rally Against Racism and Police Brutality.” The rally, somewhat inspired by the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, was organized by an ad hoc group of graduate and undergraduate students on campus to address the issue of racism and police brutality at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Undergraduate political science and legal studies student Sheena Jeune spoke in front of the crowd gathered in front of the Campus Center.

“I am reminded everyday of my race,” Jeune said, looking out at the varied races in the crowd. “Sometimes we feel we have only ourselves, today I realize that is not what it is.”

The rally organizers met on the Facebook page, “From Ferguson to Gaza: Solidarity Rally,” an event that was held on Aug. 22 in Northampton. The coordinators included graduate and undergraduate students with an array of majors, all wanting to end racial and police injustice.

The group orchestrating the event held meetings on Tuesdays in September at the New Africa House on campus. Their goal, according to Spanish and Portuguese graduate student and rally organizer Santiago Vidales, is, in addition to focusing on racism as “not only a southern issue,” the creation of a safe place to discuss topics that they may not be willing to talk about.

“Our goal is to talk about how this racist police brutality is not something that just happens in the inner-city or urban areas, but all over the United States,” said English doctorate student Neelofer Qadir.

“We want to create an open space for people to share their stories of racism,” Vidales said. “We are both exasperated and inspired by the events in Ferguson,” he said, referencing Ferguson citizens who continue to protest police involvement since the shooting of Michael Brown. Vidale added that they were a little worried about the rain, but were pleased with the turnout.

Posters hung on the Campus Center windows depicted the names of unarmed people killed by police or vigilante citizens from all over the United States.

Josh Odam, also an undergraduate political science and legal studies student, read aloud the names of victims of police brutality that were not recognized in mainstream media, including Dymond Milburn, a 20-year old girl who was, in 2006 in Galveston, Texas, at the age of 12, beaten by police because she was mistaken for a prostitute.

“Justice does not just stop at an arrest, or bringing someone to court,” Jeune said. “When we can walk hand in hand as a community…that’s where justice begins.”

Kristin LaFratta can be reached at [email protected].

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