Cheyenne Julien 16 PT still remembers the nights when her father quietly fumed at the dinner table after another incident with the neighborhood cops patrolling her Bronx neighborhood. The police routinely detained the African American man, asking questions and searching for illegal weapons or drugs.
“It was harassment. Those police officers didn’t have a reason to stop my father,” the Painting major notes while fighting back tears. “He was just trying to get home after a long day at work.”
Holding a sign reading “Black Lives Matter,” Julien was just one of approximately 200 RISD and Brown students who gathered in Market Square last Friday evening to silently protest against police mishandling of people of color. According to event organizer Yelitsa Jean-Charles 16 IL, the recent shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO was one of the catalysts for the peaceful demonstration. Many of the activists who showed support are involved in Brown’s chapter of the NAACP.
“These horrible events raise important questions related to racial profiling and discrimination, and also shine light on the militarization of our police forces,” says Jean-Charles, president of RISD student org Black Artists and Designers (BAAD). “Why is it that officers are able to whip out deadly equipment against unarmed people? We’re here to raise awareness and empower people to start a movement against police brutality.”
Early on in the protest, Moriah Benton 16 IL, president of RISD Feminists, jumped to the front of the crowd with a bullhorn and urged her peers to use their mobile phones and cameras to document illegal acts of police brutality. “Record what you see. Don’t look away,” she shouted. “We need to be vigilant in protecting our civil rights.”
Inspired by Keith Wallace, an artist who lay down in Philadelphia’s Love Park wearing a bloodied t-shirt to protest Brown’s death, the protestors moved to the center of the square and lay down close together (top photo). One of the event organizers then read the names of roughly 30 young people of color who have been killed recently by law enforcement officers.
“Witnesses said it was shocking to see still bodies taking up that amount of space in Market Square – a historical place where slaves were once bought and sold,” notes Jean-Charles. “It was an emotional visual.”