Student ‘Walkout’ for solidarity

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On Aug. 9, Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old, was killed by white Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson. Wilson is one of 50 white officers on Ferguson’s force, as compared to only three black police officers. The event caused a clear spike in racial tensions throughout St. Louis, as well as in the larger nation, and served to provoke further chaos and violent incidents. What is not clear, however, is whether the recently established grand jury will find probable cause to convict Wilson of a crime. While the nation waits for this judicial decision, individuals and groups across the country—including students in St. Louis—are attempting to make their voices heard in a collective call for justice.
A group of students from Saint Louis University and Washington University gathered near SLU’s campus clock tower on Aug. 25 to participate in what was dubbed a “hands-up walkout” for students in the St. Louis area. By skipping their classes and raising their hands in a gesture of surrender, the students expressed their solidarity with individuals who have been confronted at gunpoint by authority figures, such as Brown reportedly was.
Aug. 25 was not an arbitrary date; Michael Brown was buried at 10:00 a.m. that day. Brown’s father had called for protests to cease on the day of his son’s funeral; however, walkout organizer Stacey Banks emphasized that the event was not a protest, but a method to address the issues surrounding the death of Brown and that of those in similar situations.
Banks and other attendees stressed that another of their main goals was to communicate their feelings on what an appropriate response would look like to Brown’s case. As the event statement articulated: “We expect the Saint Louis University and Washington University communities to actively engage with the greater St. Louis area by participating in local rallies, panels, protests and grassroots events. We ask individuals to learn their rights in order to recognize and combat the abuses of power seen in those we pay to protect us.”
The walkout organizers also demanded a greater administrative response from SLU. Event literature expressed members’ disappointment in SLU president Dr. Fred Pestello’s limited response to the situation. One specific complaint of the organizers was his “[non-articulation of] any concerns about how racial tensions articulation of] any concerns about how racial tensions off-campus affect student life on-campus.”
For event organizers like Banks, the hope is that the walkout would make students more aware of the things occurring in the world around them. She pointed out that there are many opportunities for students to become engaged advocates for justice—donating food and money and developing a deeper understanding America’s crime and incarceration problems being just a few rudimentary examples.
“We are engaging the issues of our day by stepping away from our computer screens and textbooks and transforming our thoughts into action,” the event’s press statement read, “…we will continue in the fight for justice and work to reaffirm the value of every single human life.”