A mass of voices: An oral history of student involvement in protests

| Editor-in-Chief

Since the death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9, perceptions of race relations and police brutality have become the dominant story in the St. Louis region. Protests flared in the days following Brown’s death, with confrontations between protesters and police officers growing violent and the nation eagerly tuning in to the events happening 20 minutes north of Washington University’s campus.

On Monday, Nov. 24, in the culmination of a months-long process, a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Brown. Announced by St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch that Monday night, the decision sparked increased protest efforts across the region, which have continued in force since.

In the two weeks following the grand jury announcement, Student Life arranged one-on-one interviews with more than a dozen students involved in the ensuing protests. These students relayed their experiences at various protests throughout St. Louis, shared their reasons for protesting and voiced their hopes for how the protests will evolve within the University community.

Ferguson, Monday
Shaw, Monday
Downtown, Tuesday
Moving Forward


Preparation

At Washington University, students returning from summer vacation mostly arrived on campus after the initial protests had abated. The largest protest activity on campus was a walkout event in August that included a silent march around campus, with smaller Ferguson-based actions occurring throughout the rest of the semester.

In preparation for their response to the impending grand jury decision, organizers from STL Students in Solidarity, an activist group comprising students from local colleges and universities, planned for another rally on campus. But with the announcement not coming until late at night, they changed plans and instead focused on sending students off campus to join community protests.

Junior Cameron Kinker holds a sign to inform students interested in protesting on the night of the grand jury’s decision in the Darren Wilson case. In the 24 hours following the announcement, a number of students protesting around St. Louis were teargassed, and one was arrested for failure to disperse.Megan Magray | Student Life

Junior Cameron Kinker holds a sign to inform students interested in protesting on the night of the grand jury’s decision in the Darren Wilson case. In the 24 hours following the announcement, a number of students protesting around St. Louis were teargassed, and one was arrested for failure to disperse.

Reuben Riggs, senior: Organizing prior to the announcement, it was a lot of prep work. For me, it felt, I really could see the strategy behind when the indictment was announced and how there was a rumor mill started. It was meant to drive organizers up the wall, basically, and create a lot of anxiety, always having to rearrange your plans, thinking it’s going to be this day and then it’s not this day, or thinking it’s going to be that day or whatever, and it made it so that we were constantly adjusting, constantly having to make contingency plans.

Karisa Tavassoli, junior: Because the decision came out so late in the evening, we decided to have a mass meeting in the [Danforth University Center] to go over some safety tips and organize rides to get people out into the streets.

Riggs: Our plan was always to send people out to the hotspots, so we wanted to rally and then send people out. But we also recognized that in order to have a rally on campus, we needed people to feel the weight of the political moment, i.e., the announcement needed to have been made by then because otherwise people might still be, well, we don’t know if he’s indicted or not—although we were pretty certain that he would not be.

David Dwight, senior: When the decision was announced, when it was going to be released, we quickly had a meeting, decided to change [the rally] to the mass meeting for the greater student body so that people could really be informed, know what they’re doing before they go into these situations—these protest situations—knowing the hand signals, first aid, things like that.

Riggs: We wanted to accomplish the second part of what the rally was supposed to do, which was get people connected to each other, carpooling, finding out ways to get out there, and I think actually it worked out better because while a lot of us had been through a lot of trainings and everything, for the general student that wasn’t something that they had been through, and we gave the most abridged version of all these trainings that people have been going through.

A student writes the jail-support hotline phone number on a friend's arm in preparation for a night spent protesting the grand jury's decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for killing teenager Michael Brown. Megan Magray | Student Life

A student writes the jail-support hotline phone number on a friend’s arm in preparation for a night spent protesting the grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for killing teenager Michael Brown.

Ferguson, Monday

As the grand jury announcement grew imminent, news organizations across the country turned their cameras to Ferguson, where a crowd was gathering outside the Ferguson Police Department. This area had been home to some of the worst violence and clashes between protesters and police officers in August, and with many in the crowd, including a contingent of Wash. U. students, expecting the grand jury to return a non-indictment decision, tensions were high.

Sam Lai, senior: We got there basically just before the announcement, and the atmosphere was very, really tense.

Jacqui Germain, senior: The grand jury decision came out at 8 [p.m.], and people were huddled around cars, around phones, trying as hard as they could to hear things.

Will Waldron, senior: We were kind of sitting around, doing some chants, but nothing really too much. But people still had hope that the indictment would be called back and we could turn the protest into a celebration of sorts.

Germain: The crowd was dead silent trying to hear the indictment announcement, and then at the same time, the exact same time across the crowd, we all just started talking and yelling and screaming and moving toward the police department and trying to see what’s going on. It was this very sudden, almost coordinated reaction, and the energy spiked really, really suddenly because it was this moment that all of us had been waiting for for months, right? You could feel the crowd surge as soon as it was said.

Waldron: The radio broadcast kept going, we heard “no indictment,” and then the chants became much louder and just a lot more things happening in general.

Germain: We didn’t even listen to the whole thing—as soon as we heard non-indictment, as soon as we heard him say something about Darren Wilson not being indicted, the whole crowd—the whole crowd—just erupted.

Lai: We heard, like, popping, gunshots or something, and I saw someone crash a window with a chair, and then we were like, all right, it’s time to go.

Germain: I think the first thing that happened was gunshots went off, and to be completely honest, I wasn’t close enough so I don’t know who shot them. After that happened, that’s really when the police started moving in on protesters who were—I mean, we were all upset, right? But we were not being violent at all. But shortly after that, there was tear gas.

Jonathan Karp, senior: Things were pretty hectic and a little chaotic. The crowd had sort of split in two. There was a group that was out in front of the police department and there was another that had gone a little bit down the street. I was with a few others and we were beginning to walk down the street to find a few other of our friends. That’s when the tear gas canisters started flying.

Riggs: What I saw was the police start making really loud noises, and it sounded like a gunshot, and then that sent people running. With the movement, the police threw tear gas, which created more chaos.

Karp: I don’t know if you’ve seen videos, but they are shot out of these large trucks. You see a stream of light and then they hit you with the gas. They started shooting tear gas everywhere.

Lai: There was this moment where we started hearing screaming and gunshots, and then we turned and basically we looked back and there was just smoke—you couldn’t see anything, there were lights everywhere, but we didn’t know from where. It was just chaos.

Abadir Barre, law student: We cut back onto Florissant, the main road, and right when we got there, people were shaking this police car that was parked there, and then somebody lit it on fire, right in front of us…People stepped back, kind of cheering, kind of yelling epithets at the police and all that.

Waldron: There was a car that drove through the crowd. It didn’t hit any protesters; [it] was just kind of driving through. Then there was an argument that broke out between the driver and one of the protesters about the driver of the vehicle kind of [having] a violent agenda, and one of the protesters that was arguing with this driver had a peaceful agenda. They had an argument about, “why are you calling for violence,” “well, your way isn’t doing anything so we’ve got to force things.”

Barre: It wasn’t very organized—it was actually not what I was looking for. I had been in protests before in Oakland, and they were more organized, more people demanding something from the police or authorities; there was usually a march. But here, it was kind of strange. People were just in front of the police station, kind of chanting, kind of showing their frustration, or you have little groups of people just running around, for lack of a better word, I don’t want to say starting s—, but you know, setting this police car on fire or throwing a stone here and there.

ferguson map-05Megan Magray | Student Life

Riggs: I was working with the group called the Organization for Black Struggle; I’ve been working with them for a while, for a couple years now. They had me kind of observing things, kind of stepping back, and they basically had a team that was dedicated to following everything that was happening.

Lai: There was a lot more people who weren’t affiliated with this organization who just kind of showed up, and nobody in the organization knew who they were. They hadn’t been to training; they were just there.

Waldron: I see looting begin with a group of protesters breaking into a store—I think it was like a pizzeria or like a restaurant, I think—through the window. After they broke through the window, I saw some tear gas get thrown, and then after that it was all like a blur.

Germain: It got to the point where you couldn’t tell if being there was productive anymore because the police were so bent on getting everyone out that they were going to do whatever they needed to.

Riggs: After things got really hot, the OBS and [Hands Up United] made the call to pull people back, and I pulled Wash. U. kids out and sent them to Shaw.

Camille Borders, freshman: Some Wash. U. students came by, and they said that Wash. U. was pulling out because I guess that Reuben [Riggs] and other people had called for us to leave the protest because it was getting heated, which means it was getting kind of dangerous to be there—dangerous in the context not really of the protesters but of the police reactions to what was going on.

Lai: I never felt like I was in danger from anyone, like not even really the police, just because of what I look like and I was wearing a backpack—I didn’t feel in danger at all. We walked right past police, we walked right past looters and none of them paid any attention to us. I never felt personally at risk though the situation was violent.

Karp: We ran up the side street. I was pretty lucky because I had a bandana and somebody had given me goggles. It was difficult to breathe, but I didn’t get as directly hit as some other people. So we ran up the side street and we were able to catch our breath and people were flushing out their eyes.

Borders: As we were walking back up the hill, they continued to throw tear gas up the hill, and that’s when I really freaked out because I couldn’t see anything and my eyes were watering and my throat was on fire.

Karp: There were students who were directly hurt and were very distressed and scared. One thing that tear gas does is that it’s a very disorienting experience: difficult to see, difficult to breathe and things are flying all around you.

Barre: We walked back on Florissant towards our car, and then we saw a second police car on fire. We watched that for a little bit, and then police came, tear gas again, trying to get people to disperse—pretty effective in doing that.

Borders: I’m still very shaken up. You know that things happen, but the other protests I went to were very peaceful—[at] the Ferguson October one, I didn’t see any police.

Senit Kidane, junior: One of the moments that really sticks with me was we went kind of into a back parking lot behind the shops to get away from tear gas, and I was cleaning this lady’s eyes out and she was crying and saying that she can’t see. A few yards down the road, you see a group of cops who are just hanging out and chilling and making jokes like they don’t see this woman crying. It was angering to see.

Borders: I had already cried so many times that night already, hearing the decision, then when we first got to Ferguson and seeing the frustration and how upset everyone was—that was very emotionally exhausting.

Karp: I was scared, but really I was really more angry just because I didn’t understand why it was happening. I didn’t hear any warnings and I knew my friends and I had not done anything wrong or anything illegal.

Shaw, Monday

At the meeting in the DUC, students with less protest experience were encouraged to go to Shaw, where black teenager Vonderrit Myers was killed by a police officer in October. While much of the news coverage in the hours immediately after McCulloch’s announcement focused on Ferguson, Shaw was home to a more peaceful march up Grand Boulevard, which protesters took on their way toward, and eventually onto, Interstate 44.

Cameron Kinker, junior: We got there at 8 [p.m.], right at the beginning of the press conference. We went to a church basement on South Grand and listened to Bob McCulloch’s press conference.

Keaton Wetzel, senior: In the basement is where we all, along with probably 50 other people, sat around a radio and listened to the announcement being made.

Sarah Taylor, sophomore: When [McCulloch] said the decision, it was very emotional. A lot of people were crying…Right after that, we turned it off. We turned off the recording because McCulloch kept talking about it and nobody really wanted to hear it after that. We had 4 1/2 minutes of silence for Mike Brown. A few minutes after that, we started gathering outside and started to walk out onto Grand Boulevard.

Wetzel: Shaw on Monday was incredibly positive, civil; it was very empowering…everybody felt very emotional but very civil and disobedient.

Taylor: There was really more of a sense of togetherness…it was a feeling like, this has been really tragic, we were just crying a few minutes ago, but now we’re all getting together and we’ve got this huge group of people, and we’re all united in this and we’re all going to go out and protest now.

Kinker: Most of the time that I was there, it was very, very peaceful. We marched up and down Grand a few times and gathered, and the crowd swelled to be fairly large.

Taylor: I heard specifically one protester was yelling that we should be violent and go out and, like, kill all the police or something, and I was really surprised by that, that guy running around and saying that stuff. That was a very, very extreme end, but the large majority of people in the protest were really just protesting the injustice of the situation and not being like that guy and saying, “Oh, we need to go out and be violent, too.”

Wetzel: When I was there, there wasn’t any sort of violence or anything. What was interesting about it was there were some protesters who lost their temper—there was a guy who I saw try to climb onto a semitruck, and there was a guy who threw a rock through the storefront of a Kinko’s on Grand, and as soon as things like that happened, there would be a dozen other protesters or so who went up to these men and just pulled them back and calmed their temper. So the self-discipline and self-policing of the protesters was very reassuring.

Taylor: It surprised me that we were on the highway; that was really surprising to me when I noticed people going onto it, and I was like, “What are they doing? We’re not going on the highway. That’s crazy—you can’t just walk onto the highway!” And what surprised me was that the cars stopped. I mean, there was this huge semitruck and it stopped for the protesters walking out, so that was shocking to me.

Wetzel: It was very civil, very peaceful but destructive of course—I mean, you’re blocking the highway, right? But the police had stood away. We were there for 30 minutes, they stood over on the overpass and didn’t react, just watched it happen, and when we moved on, traffic started flowing.

Kinker: We shut down Highway 44, so that’s when the police put on their riot gear and started having a more militarized response to protesters…I left before the police started having an exceptionally aggressive response; that happened later.

Taylor: We actually left the highway when the police started coming out and marching with the riot gear; we actually left at that point because we didn’t want to get teargassed. We were told by other protesters, “If you don’t want to get teargassed, you should probably leave. There’s a possibility that you will get teargassed if you stay right now.” So we actually walked back, and it was really hard because it was weird to leave once we’d been involved in the protest—it was very strange to just walk away.

PrintBecca Christman | Student Life

As the conditions in Ferguson worsened and Riggs and the Organization for Black Struggle encouraged students to leave for Shaw, a number of Wash. U. students drove to the new protest location only to find their way blocked off by the shut-down highway. Now after midnight, the tension between protesters and police officers heightened, eventually leading to more direct confrontation at the intersection of South Grand Boulevard and Arsenal Street.

Lai: We decided to go to Shaw because we heard it was peaceful there…And basically what happened was, [the police] weren’t letting us join the protesters, there were people kind of waiting around and then there were other protesters trying to join, and the police kind of moved them off the highway.

Kidane: This police officer wouldn’t let us cross the bridge to let us join the protest. We kind of walked around him and joined the shutdown. I remember at that point, a group of friends and I, we linked arms and we ended up in the front—we were the first to line up in front of the cars.

Germain: Michael Brown’s mom and stepdad were [in Ferguson]. Alongside the anger was also very clear grief and mourning…it felt like community in the sense that we all were mourning, we were all grieving, we were all pissed. Then by the time we got to Grand, it was sort of like, we’re out here protesting because that’s what we’re going to do until justice comes, which to me is a very different energy than the sort of near-hopelessness that I felt at the police department.

Dwight: It was very exciting to be out there with a group of people who were all very passionate about these issues, and so it was kind of moving around and it was honestly a little scary. Not because of the protesters, but because of what we were confronted with with the police. It was very much them in riot gear, marching forward, pushing the crowd back, things like that.

Kidane: The cops in riot gear were starting to come and walk forward. Originally the plan was to keep standing there. But then the organizers didn’t want to take any risks so they called it out off the highway.

Lai: This was still a little chaotic, but it was way different; it felt way different from Ferguson, where there was just like, a lot of anger and frustration and fear and chaos—it was like a head of emotions. But here it seemed pretty concerted, pretty directed…we were chanting, the police were standing there.

Tavassoli: There was a line of policemen and there were protesters in the street, but then the policemen said that they were going to get violent, that police were going to respond violently if we didn’t leave.

Germain: At the point that we got there, they had told protesters that they needed to get on the sidewalk or else they were going to get arrested. So we were up on the sidewalk and the police said, “If you stay on the sidewalk, we’ll leave.”

Tavassoli: So the police left and we were like, “Yay, we won, cool” [and] started chanting. It was really cool; it was a really good sense of community. And then a few minutes later, the police came back and out of nowhere started shooting rubber bullets at us and teargassing us.

Riggs: Nothing was really happening; a lot of people had kind of dwindled down. We were actually about to leave, and protesters in general were dissipating, and then the police came out with their tanks and started throwing tear gas and shooting tear gas at the crowd.

Barre: Right when we got there is right when the police was dispersing the protesters. We turned the corner and there was so much tear gas in the air that we were like, “Aaaaaah,” coughing up, and our eyes were teary…there was so much tear gas that that area was difficult to be around.

Germain: There was so much smoke we couldn’t see—it was just terrible.

Riggs: One of my friends from Webster [University] got hit in the head with a tear gas canister—I mean, those things are on fire and it fell into his hood and caught his coat on fire.

Tavassoli: We all ran. A lot of us went into this coffee shop called MoKaBe’s, but everybody got hit really badly and there was tear gas inside of the coffee shop, too, and everybody was coughing and stuff and we were all trying to help each other flush it out. Some of us tried to leave and then they went down the street and gassed us again. They also, like, gassed us from behind the building, too; we were just blocked by all sides.

Riggs: They started firing tear gas at MoKaBe’s, which was supposed to be a safe space, and so there were tons of people packed into this coffee shop trying to get out of harm’s way.

Lai: I was walking toward the door of MoKaBe’s, and then they threw a tear gas canister at the door, like right in front of me. Tear gas containers don’t explode; they just kind of spill out slowly…I didn’t know how it worked and what was going on.

Tavassoli: It kind of f—- your whole brain—you’re coughing, you can’t breathe, your eyes are burning and you can’t see. Thankfully we had enough materials to take care of our stuff and flush it out and neutralize the acid. And your heart is racing really fast so it’s easy to panic, especially when there are however many people who are experiencing all of that.

Lai: Someone opened the door and pulled me inside, but by that time the tear gas was all over my face…everyone was coughing and stumbling and falling over and knocking things over. I was in terrible, terrible pain; I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe.

Dwight: It was a very tense moment because a lot of my friends were teargassed within MoKaBe’s, which is really just, honestly a terrible tactic for the police to use, to fire tear gas on protesters that were in one of the safe spaces.

Germain: It’s easy as a Wash. U. student to think that you’re fighting the structure from a theoretical, academic way, but when you get teargassed and when you literally see the state doing things like this to you, it’s just like, this isn’t about academic theory. This is literally police officers teargassing people and putting them through this s— and seeing people struggling to breathe and putting them through that s— again. It wasn’t surprising; it was just a realization of what we’re actually out there fighting.

Downtown, Tuesday

Early Tuesday morning, a group of students joined a peaceful rally in Clayton. That demonstration lasted until around noon, at which point another protest started downtown, at Kiener Plaza. From that square, a crowd marched past several downtown landmarks toward Interstate 70, where they shut down a highway like the night before.

ferguson map-05Megan Magray | Student Life

Wetzel: Our first stop was at the Department of Justice. There was a rally of sorts…We probably rallied in front of the Department of Justice for 30 minutes or so.

Riggs: From there, people—some young activists–just kind of took the crowd and marched to the highway and then took over…that’s when I got maced.

Wetzel: We marched past Busch Stadium, past the Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott case was decided, and then we stopped right at the end of the Martin Luther King Bridge, where half the group—well, not half, I’d say a couple hundred people—occupied Martin Luther King Bridge. Eventually, the group moved onto the off-ramp of the southbound lanes of Interstate 70, and we went and took the highway.

Barre: We marched up to the ramp, we crossed onto [Interstate 70] and then we created two lines of people locking arms.

Germain: People were totally down to block a highway and sit in a street and do all kinds of things because people were fed up. It was much more uplifting than the night before, and I think people at this point were energized and ready to shut things down. Like, OK, we were waiting for this response, we got it, and we mourned and it hurt, and now we’re going to shut this city down because this system is unjust.

Barre: Traffic got stopped, and the police came up there moments later. They were prepared with their riot gear, and they created a wall. So it was them on one side and us on one side. They kept telling us on their megaphones, you have to disperse, this is an unlawful assembly, you’re stopping traffic, can’t be on the freeway, unlawful.

Wetzel: They were a lot less tolerant of that action [than Monday night on Interstate 44]. Probably after about five minutes of being on the highway, they started declaring that it was an unlawful assembly. They said you should leave the area or you’ll be subject to arrests and/or other actions.

Riggs: A lot of people had left, but there was still a line that was sitting down. Then the police…took these [Mace] canisters and just started spraying everywhere. They really messed up all those people in the line.

Wetzel: I was at the front of the group, sat down and was pepper sprayed probably from about 40 feet away. Got in my eyes, over my hands, my chest.

Riggs: So a bunch of us rushed up to take care of them and put Maalox and water in their eyes because that helps neutralize it, and then the police started macing us as we were trying to pull people out of that situation.

Wetzel: They pepper sprayed me more. That sucked. It feels worse than the worst sunburn I’ve ever had. It effectively blinds you.

Germain: I was hoping that they wouldn’t use chemicals during the day, which I guess was naive on my part.

Wetzel: Eventually we got right up to the line…[The police] took their baton sticks and put them on the elbows of where we were linking arms, and they shove you as hard as they can to push you back. And then that same riot policeman, he took his shield and started hitting me in the legs with it, hitting me in my feet and ankles with it—I have a pretty deep bruise on my ankles from getting hit with his shield. And then for some reason, a police officer pointed at me and said “get him,” and I was quickly arrested.

Barre: Monday night’s protest was mostly younger people. I mean, guys and girls were there, but I would say it was probably mostly men, mostly youth that were there. Tuesday’s day protest was everybody—it was men, women, children—there were kids that were teenagers, there was a kid who was like 3 or 4 years old with his mom. It was a mixed crowd. So these protesters weren’t looking to get violent or anything, so they just kind of like urged the crowd, “Let’s pull back, we’re not trying to have this get out of hand.”

Germain: Afterwards, we went back to the courthouse and…any time you can get a crowd of people at the steps of the Old Courthouse in front of the statue of Dred Scott and that memory, that was definitely a moment that I’ll never forget.

Moving Forward

On the first day back from Thanksgiving break, students held a pair of demonstrations on campus, and a larger walkout event on Thursday, Dec. 4 marched through Olin Library, protested outside the chancellor’s house and blocked the intersection of Skinker and Forsyth Boulevards for 20 minutes.

For an issue inspiring this amount of student activism on a campus relatively infamous for its apathy toward events and issues outside the “Wash. U. bubble,” students involved in organizing and participating in the demonstrations share the reasons for their involvement and their hopes for the movement going forward.

Protesters lock arms on Thursday, Dec. 4 while blocking the Skinker-Forsyth intersection. Hundreds of students participated in the rally, which ended with a 4 1/2-minute moment of silence in the intersection.Megan Magray | Student Life

Protesters lock arms on Thursday, Dec. 4 while blocking the Skinker-Forsyth intersection. Hundreds of students participated in the rally, which ended with a 4 1/2-minute moment of silence in the intersection.

Lai: This is the issue of our time. This is not just one of the many things that is wrong with the world; this is like a situation that calls for all of us to be active in this moment.

Taylor: I’ve been disappointed with how busy I’ve been this semester and disappointed with my lack of activism…and I was like, you know what, I’m tired of saying that I’m too busy with school to pay attention to things that are really important to me that are going on in the world.

Borders: I know especially in high school, I didn’t do as much as I wanted to do, but when I got to college, I wanted to fight back as much as I could.

Barre: Had I been here in August, I would’ve done the initial protests in August, so the fact that I missed that, I was just ready to protest…I knew that protests were going to happen whether the indictment came out to indict or not indict—either way, there was going to be a protest.

Borders: This loss of life was just very sickening to me, and the fact that it wasn’t just this incident in St. Louis that united my desire to fight back. I know Trayvon Martin was the first thing that kind of hit me, sort of like, s—…this stuff happens in America.

Wetzel: The decades-long pattern of police officers killing unarmed black men and women—it’s such an obvious injustice that if I did stay home and not do anything, I don’t think my conscience would be able to live with that. It felt like it was my duty to sort of do what I could to fight these injustices.

Kinker: As a Wash. U. student, St. Louis is my city, and as a person who lives here, I think it’s my responsibility to stand with my city in this moment of intense distress and heartbreak.

Taylor: This is a huge event that’s going on right now, and I have the opportunity to participate in it and have a voice in it, and it’s happening right here, right in St. Louis, so I really just felt like it was something that I needed to do.

Kidane: When it comes to black pain and black suffering in America, there’s so much silence around it and there’s so much stigma. And I feel like black people are not seen as people, and as a black woman, I feel that as a black woman, it’s highly important to be at these things.

Karp: I think it’s a very plain example of how racist institutions function in the United States today. It’s a very plain example of injustice that is affecting our St. Louis community. So when things like this happen, you want to be on the right side and you want to do what you can that it is not slipped under the rug and the people responsible are held accountable for their actions.

Borders: I was so astonished in a way that’s depressing to read about in history books, but then when you realize that we still live in this nation…you realize you can’t be complacent.

Taylor: I’ve been frustrated by one of my friends, actually—she texted me and was like, “Why were you out there rioting?” And I’ve just been really frustrated by the assumption that the people protesting and rioting are the same thing.

Kinker: I got a lot of texts from family members or friends asking me if I was safe, but who’s asking if the black men who live in this city are safe every day?

Kidane: I feel that legislation, voting and law only go so far and it also speaks to a very privileged part of society. With protests, these are from the people and communities. It brings the conversation to the front door and puts it in your face. You have to take in and think about whether you’re with it or not. You can’t really ignore it—while if you throw around a petition or a letter-signing campaign, it’s very easy to be wishy-washy and apathetic.

After leaving Olin Library during a demonstration on Thursday, Dec. 4, junior Kendall Maxwell chants during the walk to Chancellor Mark Wrighton's house. Protesters added "I can't breathe," a reference to Eric Garner's death in New York in July, to their arsenal of chants.Megan Magray | Student Life

After leaving Olin Library during a demonstration on Thursday, Dec. 4, junior Kendall Maxwell chants during the walk to Chancellor Mark Wrighton’s house. Protesters added “I can’t breathe,” a reference to Eric Garner’s death in New York in July, to their arsenal of chants.

Germain: I think we need to be told sometimes what’s really going on. I think we’re not that good yet at paying attention to things that happen outside, off-campus.

Dwight: Often with other issues such as [last semester’s] Peabody protests and other activism that happens on campus, it can seem very far away, and that really allows people to be more complacent and not really have to face the issues.

Riggs: It’s a constant thing that we’re working through whenever we do student organizing, trying to keep in mind that student attention wanes quickly. But it was something that we knew there was no way around it; the best way to approach it was to come back [from Thanksgiving break] with a bang, which we did.

Karp: Despite all the fear and anger that is being shown in the media, there have been some really beautiful things happening in the past few days. And it’s been so incredible to see so many Wash. U. students out protesting the injustices that are affecting our community.

Riggs: It was really crazy because it was around 2 [a.m. in Shaw], and there was a group of students. It was amazing to see how many students were out—there were so many Wash. U. kids and St. Louis students in general. Everywhere I looked, I was seeing people I knew; it was phenomenal.

Germain: Wash. U. is this super comfortable place of privilege, and I think that was kind of the point of shutting down so many different parts of St. Louis—shutting down not just the Galleria but every mall in St. Louis. Not just the Walmart in this area but every Walmart that we can get to in St. Louis. Because there are all these pockets—the geography of St. Louis is such that there are pockets of the city that never have to interact with other pockets of the city, and some of those pockets are deeply privileged and isolated.

Karp: Wash. U. has a reputation of being incredibly insulated, uninterested and disengaged. And that has not been the case these past few days, and I think it could be a turning point for how we see ourselves in relation to our communities.

Dwight: This happening in St. Louis and all the things with the administration and the panels that have gone on on campus—it’s kind of hard to avoid the subject, and I think as people have steadily learned more about it during, across this semester…it’s been amazing to see how people want to get involved.

Germain: I personally was shocked at the turnout [at the walkout on Thursday], for example, which is why I think that this is only the beginning. You have so many of the protesters who came out today—this was their first time coming to anything, and they trusted the organizers and they trusted us enough to block a street. That’s not a small thing. This is the beginning for a lot of people. This is a moment I think that a lot of Wash. U. students have politicized themselves and are ready to commit to this long term. Of the several hundred people that were out, that’s still a very small percentage of Wash. U., but that’s more than I could’ve ever hoped for, to be completely honest. I’m grateful for the turnout and I’m thankful and I’m hopeful, and I think it’ll only get better. At least I hope it’ll only get better.

Additional reporting by Sarah Hands, Manvitha Marni, Emily Schienvar and Derek Shyr.

  • Arafat

    The August 9, 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO by Officer Darren
    Wilson was the origin of a national myth. Myths are sacred stories that serve
    to explain the world view of a people. They often originate as distorted
    accounts of real historical events that storytellers repeatedly elaborate on
    until the primary figure in the account achieves the status of a saint or a
    god. A culture’s myths provide a sense of identity, shared lifestyle, affirm
    beliefs and values and are expressed in symbols and rituals. A national myth is
    a fictional narrative that omits important historical details, or adds details
    where there is no evidence, but is held as true due to its symbolic meaning for
    the nation. Michael Brown has become the symbol of racism, police brutality and
    social injustice. Evidence is irrelevant because myths are symbolic not literal
    truths.

    Disregarding forensic evidence and a grand jury decision is necessary and required to
    perpetuate the national myth of institutionalized racism, oppression and
    inequality. The mythology functions as a method to demonize police, inculcate
    fear, justify violence, promote vengeance and achieve political agendas. The
    death of Michael Brown has been formatted and packaged by the mainstream media
    that serve as an outlet for state-sponsored propaganda. Correspondents use selective
    and biased reporting to propagate the national mythology. However, protest
    signs, graffiti, hand signs, flags, masks and other symbols in Ferguson reveal
    a different alternative narrative.

    • Tracy Collins

      I would assert that unquestioned trust in the grand jury system is also a myth. Those who claim that the “forensic evidence and grand jury decision” are somehow conclusive are mistaken. We have trials in this country as a means of arriving at truth (or as close to truth as can be obtained.) There was no trial in this case–only a distorted grand jury process that masqueraded as a trial to those who don’t know the difference. You’re free to believe anything you like–but you don’t have any more information upon which to pontificate than any of the protestors.

      A trial requires adversarial cross-examination of witnesses and advocates that represent both sides of a question. We have all heard exactly one side of this story. Those who want to call that the truth are the myth-makers. All of us–including you–have been denied a process that arrives at truth, and that’s plenty enough reason to be angry.

      • Arafat

        Trials, eh? With snake lawyers, eh? Yeah that’s the answer. Just ask OJ.

  • ssp1116

    this is fantastic reporting.

  • Bigmamma

    How can you protest without hearing all the facts? Two people in this article admit to not listening to the entire speech by the prosecutor. You need to do this or read the Grand Jury documents yourself, and keep an open mind. Media has skewed this event.

    • Arafat

      How dare you suggest these students – with students assuming an interest in learning – take the time to learn the facts. Better that they just utilize knee-jerk reactions and think with their balls then take the time to study both sides of the issue.

      • Sam Lai

        I’ve learned the facts and I know exactly why I’m protesting. This was far from a knee-jerk reaction for me and it took a lot of thinking and learning -nearly my entire college career- to get to the point where I felt like I could go out and protest that night. I want to have a conversation with you about it. If you are looking for sources that reveal the reality of institutional racism I can point you to those as well. Email me and we can set up a time/place: [email protected] . This goes for anyone who is interested in hearing more.

    • Sam Lai

      Hey Bigmamma. I want to suggest that our protesting has less to do with the actual legal details of the case and more to do with the systematic injustices that led to the death of Mike Brown in the first place. As for the systematic injustices -we are very well learned.

      I’d like to extend the same offer to talk to you about this that I did to Arafat below:

      I’ve learned the facts and I know exactly why I’m protesting. This was far from a knee-jerk reaction for me and it took a lot of thinking and learning -nearly my entire college career- to get to the point where I felt like I could go out and protest that night. I want to have a conversation with you about it. If you are looking for sources that reveal the reality of institutional racism I can point you to those as well. Email me and we can set up a time/place: [email protected] . This goes for anyone who is interested in hearing more.

    • Tracy Collins

      People are protesting because they’d like the chance to obtain facts. We do that in this country with a trial. The grand jury report was not a trial. There was no cross-examination, no advocate for Mike Brown, no judge. The documents released tell one side of the story.

      • Arafat

        Trace’s fantasy world brought to you by Tracy. Act I: Grand Juries ignore factual evidence. Act II: Trials are better because I (Tracy) say so. ACT III: Tracy tells us he knows everything. Curtain.