Protests erupted across the nation and around Washington, D.C., following St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s announcement Monday night that Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.
D.C. protesters dissatisfied with the decision rallied in front of the White House on Monday night and organized further demonstrations on Tuesday, including a silent protest on Georgetown’s campus. Students and professors at the university expressed discontent with the ruling, having held multiple reflections throughout the semester to discuss the unfolding events in Ferguson.
On Monday night, hundreds of D.C. protesters responded to the grand jury’s decision with a march from U Street to the White House. Among the protestors were numerous students from Georgetown, some of whom marched down Pennsylvania Avenue chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
“I’m a strong advocate for justice, and showing that all lives matter and black lives matter,” said Kattlyn Carpenter, a freshman at Howard University who attended the rally at the White House. “This isn’t just a hashtag or a moment. We’re really going to stand for it.”
Protesters began marching to the White House shortly after the 9:20 p.m. announcement of the decision, concurrent with President Barack Obama speaking on national television to urge protesters to remain peaceful. By 11 p.m., a large crowd had convened but remained peaceful.
For some protesters, the demonstration served as an emotional outlet following the grand jury’s widely awaited decision.
“I heard that a group of students was coming down here to convey a very deep sense of despair at the lack of an indictment of Darren Wilson,” Chris Wager (COL ’17) said. “I’m honestly just really pissed off and needed to channel that energy and needed to support the community.”
Around 500 demonstrators gathered outside the White House for over an hour, chanting slogans such as “Black lives matter” and singing hymns. The protesters left at midnight and marched through Chinatown, closing many roads and intersections.
“We want to make a point that black lives do matter and that it’s not OK to kill. Justice should be served for Mike Brown and for Trayvon Martin and for all the lives that were lost unjustly,” Howard freshman Ngodoo Iye said.
Protests in D.C. continued on Tuesday with demonstrations at the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters, the Office of Police Complaints, the D.C. Council and Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser’s transitional office.
At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, thousands of protesters convened at Mount Vernon Square for an even larger rally than the night before. The demonstrators marched through Chinatown and ended their protest at around 9:30 p.m. at the American Art Museum.
Protesters chanted slogans including “No justice, no peace” and “Don’t shoot” as they marched, and many carried signs condemning racism and police brutality. At several times during the march, protesters also yelled, “F—k the police,” in response to the MPD officers who were keeping watch on the rally.
“We just want to see black people get justice and be spoken up for. They deserve to have rights, and black lives do actually matter,” said Emonte Wimbush, a member of Black United Students at Kent State University, who participated in the march.
While many D.C. Ferguson protests incorporated mass chanting, a demonstration at Georgetown chose silence.
Dozens of students gathered in Red Square on Tuesday at 12:28 p.m. for a silent demonstration, which was organized by Georgetown’s Black Leadership Forum and lasted less than 10 minutes.
Demonstrators stood in silence with their hands raised for nearly five minutes. After the silent demonstration, some participants sang a brief song before the group disbanded.
In the weeks following Brown’s death on Aug. 9, both peaceful and violent protests broke out in the St. Louis suburb, eliciting increasingly aggressive police enforcement tactics. The mounting tensions quickly garnered national attention, and spotlighted race relations. Just days after Brown’s death, the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a civil rights investigation of the shooting. The investigation is ongoing.
The university community addressed the conflict through several events. At the start of the semester, students led a vigil in Red Square on Aug. 26, while Provost Robert Groves and several university professors held a panel discussion in Gaston Hall on Aug. 28. The Black Leadership Forum and the Center for Social Justice also co-hosted a “Ferguson Teach-In” on Sept. 17, featuring roundtable discussions, panels and student presentations. Students from the Georgetown chapter of NAACP, Black Student Alliance, Program on Justice and Peace, Patrick Healy Fellowship, Georgetown Solidarity Committee and United Feminists traveled to Ferguson as part of the “Weekend of Resistance” in October, in a trip sponsored by the Center for Social Justice and the Office of Affirmative Action Programs.
GU NAACP President Mikaela Ferrill (COL ’15) voiced her disappointment in the grand jury’s decision and said that she thought it was indicative of an ongoing trend in America.
“I am sad, angry, and upset with the grand jury’s decision. Time and time again, America proves that it does not value the lives of black men and women,” she said.
Crystal Walker (SFS ’16), who travelled to Ferguson in October to participate in the “Weekend of Resistance” along with Ferrill and 15 other Georgetown students, said that she was not surprised by the decision.
“It’s a shame that our judicial system failed to address and confront such a pressing issue and problem in this so-called great country,” Walker said.
LaDarius Torrey (COL ’17), who also made the trip to Ferguson, said that he felt a mix of emotions upon hearing about the grand jury’s decision. Torrey said that while he is upset about the decision, he also fears for the future.
“I’m angry, actually beyond pissed, on one hand, and completely frightened and left hopeless on the other,” Torrey wrote in an email. “The case of Michael Brown is not an isolated incident, it’s a recurring theme in ‘our’ nation.”
Torrey co-produced a video called “Am I Next?” in September as a response to Brown’s death. The video, which depicted a group of young men standing on the steps of Healy Hall while Walter Kelly (COL ’16) delivered a spoken word poem, aimed to highlight misconceptions about young black men.
“Many call this a race war, but how is this so? There is no level playing field or battleground,” Torrey wrote. “The system has been structured to work against us, and the police, who are supposed to be held accountable to protect us all, are the main perpetrators of injustice in America.”
Members of the Georgetown community voiced their reactions to the grand jury’s decision on social media. Sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson and history professor Marcia Chatelain took to Twitter to express their discontent.
“This is a profound miscarriage of justice and a slap in the face of all citizens who cherish democracy,” Dyson wrote. “We must continue to fight this injustice.”
Chatelain urged other professors to incorporate the events into their classes.
“And so we start again…consider teaching ‘The Making of Ferguson’ … tomorrow,” Chatelain tweeted, providing a link to a Dissent Magazine article with the same name and using the hashtag #FergusonSyllabus.
Ferrill said she is not discouraged by the jury’s decision, but rather will use it as motivation in what she said is a fight for social justice. She added that the Georgetown community should also take a closer look at diversity in education.
“I challenge the entire Georgetown community, students, faculty, and staff to take this as an opportunity to think critically about what happened in Ferguson and what happens in various communities everyday,” Ferrill said. “It is upsetting to see students not using their privilege to cause social change.”