Voices from the UMass Amherst “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” rally
by: Jordan Deschenes
Not trying to serve any agenda with this one – I hope that I can provide a chance for all voices to be heard.
When it came to names, I really didn’t take the time to ask everyone who they were. Sorry for the inconvenience, bad reporting on my part. If you see yourself here, send me your name and I’ll add you in!
At 1 pm, around 15 minutes before 12 o’clock classes came to an end, UMass students began gathering outside the Student Union. They were awaiting the start of a protest in response to a court decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of 18-year-old Ferguson resident Michael Brown.
The “Hands Up, Walk Out” rally was organized on Facebook with the help of on-campus groups dedicated to advancing opportunities for students of color in the Amherst area, including the Black Student Union and Student Bridges.
Here’s what the rally’s Facebook event page had to say:
“In solidarity with the national call to action, we are asking you and your organizations to support a mass walk out on Monday at 12:01pm CST (1:01pm ET)—the time that Mike Brown was murdered. Folks can put their hands up as they leave their job, schools or wherever they are and gather together. Following the walkout, we will have a 4.5 minute moment of silence in remembrance of the 4.5 hours Mike Brown’s body was left in the middle of the street by the Ferguson Police.
OUT OF THE DORMS, INTO THE STREETS!
MHC Meet-Up Location: Blanchard Bonfire Pit
UMass Meet-Up Location: Student Union
Smith Meet-Up Location: Campus Center (CC)
Hampshire Meet-Up Location: In front of the Library by the brick steps
Amherst Meet-Up Location: In front of Frost Library”
Here’s what a few students had to say as they started to crowd in front of the Student Union:
“Pity and sympathy only go so far. A lot of people are hopping on the bandwagon.”
“You can feel the racial tension in New Orleans, where I live. It’s nothing like most UMass students would think.”
“I left for the rally with two minutes left in class. I hope this isn’t another act.”
“We’re a people, we want to be viewed as such.”
The rally began a little after one o’clock, (1:01, the time of Michael Brown’s death to be exact.) Over 300 people stood before the student union, eager to hear someone say something. Most of the crowd consisted of white students. For the most part, the white students in the crowd had their eyes fixed on a small minority of students of color in the center of the crowd.
No one had to say anything; it was pretty obvious. The disparity between the white and non-white attendees clearly highlighted the issue that everyone there had come to address.
The crowd waited with bated breath as the impassioned voice of Jasmine Bertrand-Halidy implored the crowd to take a moment of silence. The silence, although not quite the 4.5 minutes that was called for, was eerie and attracted the attention of passersby.
Bertrand-Halidy then called out the names of unarmed civilians who were killed at the hands of police, along with their age. As the names of a 90 year old man and a young child were read, it evoked a loud, “what the fuck?” from a few in the crowd.
Among the intertwined name readings, the core speakers were were well-prepared with their speeches. Some overwhelmed students in the crowd took up the bullhorn to voice their own opinions. Among all these speakers, few resulted in the loud, incoherent “ranting” present at a few past UMass rallies. Topics of special interest included NYC “stop and frisk” laws and racially-charged bullying at local schools, among others.
Here are quotes and highlights from some of the major speeches:
-Believes that the jury was part of the problem in the Darren Wilson verdict
-Used the phrase “police apologists”
-UMass Graduate student advisor
-Member of the LGBTQ support at the rally
-“Movements inspire others historically”
-Anti-War, LGBTQ, Women’s Rights
-“Those in power are scared of losing their grip.”
-Holds a weekly, bilingual WMUA radio show, “The Radio Voice of UMass Amherst”
-Economic problem of race inequality
-International, not just in the United States
-“Despite what you think, when it comes to social values, the world’s people affect each other, from China to America, from America to Mexico.”
-“I hope my view is not seen as an ‘apocalyptic,’ paranoid point of view. It is the truth.”
-Highlighted the U.S. history of institutional racism from the end of the civil war to now
-Mongeau: “Tell me what community looks like?” Crowd: “This is what community looks like!”
-Employee at UMass
-Leader of “Justice for Carolyn” movement
-At Amherst high school, teacher of color was targeted by racist threats
–“More than just graffiti,” according to Loeung
-MCAD complaints filed
-“Most people say Amherst is 100% liberal. I disagree. Politics is one thing, race is another.”
-“Exposure to white-dominated ideas as children have been embedded into the white mentality, on a subconscious level. Take a look at this aspect of your life and reevaluate it.”
Unattributed speakers’ quotes:
-“Look at the eyes, not skin color. Eyes matter, not the color of the skin.”
-“The line on which I make decisions is growing very thin. If we (students of color) could afford it, there would be more of us in the crowd.”
-“Blacks and other people of color are treated like it’s their fault! I’m tired of it, but I’m not tired of your support.”
-“I’m tired of hearing people say that they’re tired of people being discriminated against. It’s time to change this.”
After the speech, Stacy Tchouanguem of UMass’s Student Bridges had a few words to say about the group. As a student run agency, Student Bridges focuses on “access and success for underrepresented students.”
According to Tchouanguem, these are almost always students of color. In addition to providing support on-campus and in Amherst, Student Bridges offers tutoring in Holyoke and Springfield.
“We work with activism too, obviously,” she said with a laugh.
A few other observers were also able to give their opinions about the “Hands Up” rally:
-Dean of Students and Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life
-“It’s always important to support students in their quest for answers and critical dialogue.”
-Chef at a Baby Berk truck right next to the rally
-“This is typical of America to hold a rally when something happens. Needs more unbiased media representation to really make an impact.”
Police officer (Amherst/UMass officers not authorized to give spontaneous interviews)
-Observed rally from the roof of the parking garage
-“Just making sure everyone stays safe.”