The match was ready to be lit on Wednesday night.
In the wake of the #OccupyStamp protests on Nov. 25, students continued their activism toward demilitarizing the university’s police department, as well as vocalizing their solidarity with Ferguson protesters during a town hall meeting located at the Atrium room at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union.
Today’s verdict further fueled an already blazing fire of national protest: The “no indictment” decision for New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo, who caught 44-year-old Eric Garner in a chokehold, a maneuver that was banned in 1993.
Garner later died of a heart attack on the way to the hospital.
“I want to be able to find solutions as well as how we can make a difference,” said freshman dance and elementary education major Praise Carson as she waited for the Ferguson town hall meeting to begin.
Many felt the same.
About 100 attended, including students, alumni and local citizens.
The African American Studies Department organized the meeting, inviting professors such as Rashawn Ray and Odis Johnson Jr. to the panel that also featured members of the University’s Social Justice Coalition, although they weren’t as vocal throughout the exchanges.
The discussion commenced with the panelists giving their own statements concerning the issue. Quotations from Martin Luther King Jr. and events from the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s were addressed by Dr. Hoda Mahmoudi from The Bahá’í Chair for World Peace at the university, prompting nods and snaps from the audience.
Statistics were presented as well: young African-American males are 21 times more likely to be killed by police officers than white males, according to American journalist and op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof. African-American studies lecturer Jonathan England stated these facts, asking the audience to put their hands up if they already knew them.
“Fear should not be a viable defense for killing someone!” Ray said, addressing Darren Wilson’s remarks on Michael Brown’s stature in a recent interview.
After panelists concluded their remarks, attendants stood behind microphones, ready to pose questions. The majority of the questions were addressed to Mitchell, who gave lengthy explanations accompanied by humor.
The first question highlighted what everyone wanted to discuss — the demilitarization of the UMPD. Mitchell noted the Florida State University shooting from a few weeks ago, saying campus police needed to be prepared for such a situation.
The discussion later segued into student activism – what can College Park students do in order to solve the problems that arise from racism and prejudice? A myriad of topics relating to race relations arose, and personal encounters with police were presented by numerous audience members.
Around 8:30 p.m., the event’s original end time, the dialogue began to intensify.
One female student at the microphone demanded Chief Mitchell to tell the statistics, to show how a militarized campus police is positive for the university. Similar occurrences continued until 9:30 p.m.
“The town hall meeting was successful in that now I know where to start,” said senior theatre and Arabic major Sam Mauceri. “I have more tools to use now.”
“I think that there’s been a lot of meetings and talking. Racism has been deeply rooted in this country. The problem cannot be fixed if we don’t talk to the people who don’t know how it is to be black,” said Shantel Frederick, a freshman psychology major.
Outside the Xfinity Center, about 30 protesters participated in a “Die-in,” lying on the ground with temperatures in the 40s, and saying “I can’t breathe,” alluding to Garner’s cry while in a chokehold.
A town hall meeting hosted by the activist based organization Community Roots will be held today at the Margaret Brent Room (2112) in Stamp at 7:30 p.m. The event is open to the public.
Karla Casique is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.