Black Lives Matter Week Addresses Police Brutality
Issue   |   Wed, 10/22/2014 - 02:39

This week the newly formed student group Black Lives Matter launched its first campaign to raise awareness and facilitate conversations about issues relating to police brutality.

The awareness week, which began Wednesday, Oct. 15, started with flyers taped to lampposts, tree trunks and handrails around the campus that displayed the names of victims of police brutality. Among those named was Michael Brown, the young black man who was killed by a police officer this August in Ferguson, Mo. Additionally, the group posted flyers around campus printed with phrases such as “Hands Up,” “Don’t Shoot” and “Why are you following me?”

The awareness week involved students, faculty, and police members and was co-sponsored by the Multicultural Resource Center, the Queer Resource Center, the Black Students Union, and the Women’s Gender Center.

Adrianna Turner ’14, the diversity and equity coordinator of the Multicultural Resource Center, took the first step in creating the campaign this summer. According to Athri Ranganathan ’16, an at-large member of the initiative, Turner “realized that there was a lot of dissatisfaction about Michael Brown amongst Amherst students on Facebook, so she wanted to provide a physical space where they could discuss these issues. The first meeting was in August, and the initiative grew out of a few gatherings over the summer.”

Ranganathan said he thought it was important to bring the Black Lives Matter campaign to a larger audience.

“For me, as an organizer of this week, I think it’s necessary to bring conversations about police brutality to the non-black student body,” Ranganathan said. “I think that the black student population is largely aware of these issues, but the non-black students, even faculty, might not always see the Michael Brown issue as indicative of systemic inequality.”

The initiative to raise awareness consisted of a series of panels and discussions involving students, faculty and campus police over an eight-day period. The first of these panels was titled “Beyond Ferguson, The Conversation Continues.” Subsequent events included “A Conversation with ACPD,” a “Know Your Rights Night,” and a screening of the film “Fruitvale Station.”
The week concluded with a “Vigil: For All Who Have Unjustly Lost Their Lives to Police Brutality.”

During the panel “Beyond Ferguson, The Conversation Continues,” Trevor Baptiste, the chair of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee, explained to the audience why he thought it was integral for members of the community — regardless of ethnicity or social background — to be active in the initiative. However, Baptiste said he wanted to make sure that students were contributing to this mission for the right reasons.

“Don’t help me because you have something to give me or because you feel bad for me, but because your fortunes and problems are just as tied up in these issues as mine are,” Baptiste said.

He went on to say that all people, regardless of color, share a “common nexus” in issues relating to respect between police and the citizenry.

Professor of Political Science Kristin Bumiller, another panelist at the event, said that the Supreme Court, applying the current laws in cases of police violence, has effectively sanctioned police actions that many people would consider unjust.
“The Supreme Court has really immunized the police,” Bumiller said. “The law seems stacked against justice.”

Members of the panel also focused on larger issues of structural racism.
“Until the psychosis of racism – the idea that some are better than others – until that changes, the larger problem between police and civilians will remain systemic,” Baptiste said.

Another Awareness Week event, “A Conversation with ACPD,” facilitated a discussion between students and the college’s police about the relationship between police and students on campus. During the conversation Assistant Athletic Director Billy McBride said that students have the advantage of “knowing the dispatchers” and interacting with the police force when they are off duty. At the event, some students discussed their concerns about crowd control at college parties.

“A lot that Amherst College Police Department talked about was really eye-opening,” said Briana Wiggins ’15, a student who attended the event. “It is good to humanize what it’s like to put on a uniform.”

The Black Lives Matter campaign also attracted many students from the Five College area.

“This is really important because it allows the campaign to get outside the ‘Amherst bubble’ and attract different students and perspectives from surrounding schools,” said Jessi Wilcox ’15, an organizer of the awareness week.

The weeklong campaign concludes Wednesday, Oct. 22 with a vigil for all victims