Standing silently in the chilled air on the steps of Samuel Phillips Hall last Friday night, students lifted up candles in memory of those of the black community who lost their lives due to police brutality. The four-and-a-half minutes of silence reflected the four-and-a-half hours that Michael Brown’s body lay on the streets of Ferguson, MO., this past August.
The candlelight vigil followed an hour-long community forum facilitated by students and faculty in Kemper Auditorium. The forum focused on the racial issues facing America in light of the grand jury decisions to not indict the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Over 300 students attended the forum, according to Linda Carter Griffith, Dean of Community and Multicultural Development.
“The goal [of the forum] was not to achieve uniformity but to enable reflection and initiate a set of conversations that will continue,” said Thomas Kane, Instructor in English.
Although the subjects of conversation at the forum varied, discussions were primarily based on an exchange of perspectives and ideas.
“I think for me it was also important that people came with open minds and were willing to hear different perspectives. [It was also important] that they were able to consider perspectives that were different from their own and try to understand why the things that they may be thinking are different from their peers and why that might be,” said Carrie Ingerman ’15, a discussion moderator.
Several groups focused on how students could advocate and assist in changes they believed were necessary in response to the cases. Some suggestions included advocating against specific, racially slanted laws or reforming the prosecutorial system.
“You look at the way the prosecutor in the Michael Brown case worked, and [then] you think about the way the prosecutor typically works with the police to get evidence to prosecute criminals. But when you have a prosecutor who has to prosecute a police officer, that presents itself as a conflict of interest automatically,” said Devontae Freeland ’15, another discussion moderator.
Other discussions focused on more practical concepts, talking about the possible integration of such discussions of race into a classroom setting and the extension of conversation beyond forums.
“I think that we should talk about race in all different kinds of places. It can’t just be at these forums. I think that with these forums, it’s hard to delve deep into these topics … I think these topics would be a lot more easily discussed in the dorm and classrooms,” said Fiona Yonkman ’16.
Several groups also discussed the Ferguson case itself and grappled with the trial’s outcomes and the events surrounding it. The conversation included the emotional responses and experiences of Andover students to the events.
“I was not surprised [by the non-indictment] because I expected that, but I was shocked as well because I feel like we’ve gone through so much as a country as a whole and it was like ‘Wow, this can happen again.’ … I’m still working on getting the whole story because I don’t think I can make a just opinion from what I’ve been hearing,” said Justice Robinson ’18.
After the non-indictments that resulted from both the Brown and Garner cases, both students and teachers alike felt the necessity for discussion both on the physical events and emotional responses.
“I think a huge part of the problem with events like the tragedy in Ferguson [and] Eric Garner’s death is you only have certain pockets of people … grieving …. It was so important to have all of Andover realize that this was an important event,” said Jaleel Williams ’15, a moderator.
“The Ferguson case brought up many questions and emotions for many students like me… For me, the forum provided both answers to my questions and a safe space to work through emotions and feelings related to the events of Ferguson,” said Akhil Rajan ’17.