The sound of silence
“#HandsUp Walk Out” demonstration draws crowds, promotes activism
At 12:28 p.m. on Monday, hundreds of students, faculty and staff fell quiet, observing a moment of silence as, 10 miles north of campus, Michael Brown’s funeral drew to a close.
Monday’s “#HandsUp Walk Out” event, one of many organized at colleges throughout the United States, included a silent march starting at Brookings Hall and continuing around the Danforth campus. The march was followed by an open forum in which members of the Washington University community voiced their opinions on the march and Mike Brown’s death.
Organizers say they are encouraged by the large numbers of students who marched in the walkout but hope that the attendees continue their activism as the semester continues.
Seniors Amee Azad and Reuben Riggs, co-organizers of the walkout, estimated the attendance at around 400 people, based on the sign-in sheets circulating at the start of the event.
After opening remarks by the event’s organizers, the marchers, carrying signs reading such messages as “Courage will not skip this generation” and “Demilitarize the police and demilitarize the world,” marched silently from the stairs in front of Brookings to Seigle Hall before returning to Brookings.
As the march progressed, students who were not participating paused to watch and take pictures of the marchers, or simply to wait for the sidewalk to clear.
Azad and Riggs said that they hoped the walkout would serve as a place to memorialize Brown’s death, but that it would also encourage the University and students to take action about the issues surrounding Brown’s death.
“There are root causes to why Mike Brown died on Aug. 9 and we wanted to both address those issues but also pay tribute to the loss of a life,” Azad said.
At the open forum, organizers encouraged students to remain involved in issues of social justice following the walkout, listing several upcoming events and promoting a Facebook group that brought together student activists.
Riggs said that he felt the fact that students became involved in an issue in the local community was noteworthy.
“This moment was actually really significant for Wash. U. because this is one of the first times that you saw a lot of students get mobilized around something that wasn’t directly related to us,” Riggs said. “This wasn’t a reaction to an event on campus, it wasn’t protesting a board of trustees member…it was us as St. Louisans and us as young people instead of us as Wash. U. students.”
Azad agreed, adding that she hoped the students who attended the walkout did not become complacent as a result of the high turnout.
“I feel very strongly about us not losing momentum on the issue—about us not growing content with the outcome of the event,” Azad said. “Just because this thing happened on campus doesn’t mean that it stops there. We still need to encourage people and we need to get our friends and go out to these different events, go out to Ferguson and coordinate and remain vigilant in these conversations.”
Junior Onaedo Onejeme said she attended the walkout because she cared about the issues that were addressed and believed she should take action. She also expressed grief over Brown’s death.
“There’s a human being who got shot without posing any threat,” Onejeme said. “It just makes me really sad to see that again.”
Graduate students Niel Rosenthalis and Cassie Donish said they participated in the march to demonstrate their support for oppressed communities.
“A show of solidarity is important because this affects not only people of color—this affects everyone who lives in this country. To me, it’s unacceptable to live in a society where people of color are oppressed in any way,” Rosenthalis said.
“I hope that people as a group are kind of reaching a moment where instead of being terrified, they can find strength in solidarity,” Donish said.
Donish also added that she found the silence, which contrasted with the noise of other marches that she had participated in, to be powerful.
“Everyone [around me] was silent, and it was like people were so filled with intention and emotion about what we’re doing here that it was kind of impossible to make small talk,” Donish said.
A walkout event was also hosted at Saint Louis University, and students from both universities jointly released a statement about the march and launched a website. A report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stated that about two dozen students attended SLU’s walkout.
Chalk profiles on the sidewalk, labeled with the names of people of color who had been killed by police officers, also appeared across campus on Monday, but Azad and Riggs said the chalking efforts were organized by a University professor, not by the organizers of the walkout. A student did read a list of people of color who had been killed by police at the walkout event itself.
Although Washington University Police Department officers were present at the event, they handed out water to those in attendance and did not interfere with the march.
For additional photo coverage of the event, see our full gallery on Read All Over.