Nearly three weeks after unarmed teenager Michael Brown was fatally shot by police on August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri, the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” movement has arrived at Elon University, in the form of more than 100 people posing for an awareness-raising photo on Phi Beta Kappa Commons Tuesday during the first College Coffee of the new school year.
The brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity (APA) brought the movement to Elon’s campus, beginning at College Coffee on August 26. Alpha Phi Alpha President Justin Pierce spoke about the issue and students, faculty and staff posed for a group picture with their hands in the air.
“Michael Brown, an 18-year-old male who had recently graduated from high school was planning on attending his first day of college two days after his death. To Elon’s class of 2018 — Michael Brown could have been your classmate,” Pierce , a senior, said.
Freshman Kara Rollock participated and drew parallels between the shooting and other inequalities in society.
“It’s such a social injustice, and the shooting really exemplifies that even though we’ve come so far in our society, there are still so many injustices we face today,” Rollock said.
When Michael Brown was shot by police, he allegedly called out “don’t shoot” while holding his hands in the air. This event triggered a mass of protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, where Brown was shot, and raised questions about the state of racial equality and police brutality in the nation.
In Ferguson, violent riots have broken out, in addition to peaceful protests, causing tensions to simmer in other urban communities elsewhere throughout the country, leading to a spill-over effect in less populated areas, such as Tuesday’s demonstration at Elon.
People all across the nation were inspired to start movements, prayers and discussions about the events still taking place in Ferguson, including at Elon University,
Senior Lashaun Nunnery also participated in the photo and said his outrage was about the race of the victim and more about concerns about police brutality and violence in general.
“Someone just got killed by the police and he was unarmed,” Nunnery said. “That’s something that should never happen, no matter what the race of the person is.”
The national Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity also covered the cost of Mike Brown’s funeral to show solidarity with the black community.
One junior attended the demonstration after watching, from afar, violence unfold in her own backyard.
Junior Mia Watkins is from Ferguson and was there when the shooting occurred.
“Seeing my hometown, the streets I grew up with and even my backyard on local and national news makes me extremely anxious,” Watkins said. “I came back to Elon early for RA training and I felt helpless as I watched my town erupt in anger from far away. I was watching “Last Week Tonight” on HBO, and I saw that my town was one of the main topics. The next thing I knew, I was crying.”
Watkins said when she came back to Elon, she was worried that she wouldn’t have anyone to talk to about Ferguson, but hasn’t found that to be the case.
“I am glad that there are Elon students talking about it, being made aware about it,” Watkins said.
“This isn’t just for the black community,” said senior and APA president Justin Pierce. “This is an open invitation for anyone who wants to be involved. It’s not just a race issue; it’s a police brutality issue.”
Pierce reached out to other organizations on campus, encouraging them to support “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.”
“The conflict in Missouri challenges our ideals and goals as Elon students, and it is our civic responsibility to show Elon in a great light on the first day of class,” Pierce said.
The Michael Brown shooting hits close to home for Pierce.
“It could have been me,” Pierce said. “It could have been any one of the brothers. It’s heartbreaking.”
For the most part, Pierce says he feels safe at Elon, but he personally has experienced racial slurs being thrown out and said it’s an unfortunate, but common, occurrence.
Last fall, Pierce’s walk through Elon with his girlfriend was interrupted by a loud racial epithet shouted out a car window. In the past, similiar incidents have been condemned by Smith Jackson, vice president for student life, in a series of campus-wide emails.
“I was walking down Williamson with my girlfriend when a car drove by, and I heard a word shouted at me.” Pierce said. “I just looked back at them, and I was mad at myself for looking back because they knew that I was angry and that was what they wanted from me.”
Pierce said that although he has never felt unsafe at Elon, the incident made him feel more wary of his surroundings.
There are several other events being held in the upcoming weeks focusing on Ferguson and the larger issues at play. Organizers say the events foster conversation in bringing a national issue home to Elon.
The Multicultural Center and the university’s Council on Civic Engagement are hosting “Race and Law Enforcement: Lessons from Ferguson, Missouri” at 7:15 p.m. Aug. 27 in McKinnon Hall.
Naeemah Clark, associate professor of communications, will be nominating a pannel consitsting of Jim Bissett, professor of history, Ken Fernandez, assistant professor of political science and policy studies, Robert Parrish, assistant professor of law, India Johnson, assistant professor of psychology and Sandra Reid, human service studies lecturer. Joe Incorvia, Student Government Association president, will also be making a statment, and Watkins will be sharing a reflection about living in Ferguson.
Protestant Chaplain Joel Harter is organizing a prayer for racial reconciliation Sept. 3.
“It will be in response to what’s happening in Ferguson, but will focus on the larger issues of race, bias, inequality and ongoing racial tensions and prayer for healing and reconciliation of our society,” Harter said.
According to Harter, members of InterVarstiy, Gospel Choir and One in Christ are actively involved in putting together this event and he hopes to get several other groups involved as well, including Lutherens, Episcopalans and Friends and Catholic Campus Ministry.
“I think that this goes to show that Elon does not stand for social or racial injustice,” Pierce said. “Coming to Elon, everyone should be treated equality. By standing up we’re saying that equality is necessary to be a student here at Elon.”