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SMC event raises social consciousness

| Thursday, September 25, 2014

Saint Mary’s community members congregated for a peaceful protest Wednesday to honor Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 9. The demonstration, themed #DontShoot, aimed to raise awareness on the racial injustice that many believe are responsible for Brown’s death.

Junior Elizabeth Renner said Brown, a black man, was walking in the middle of the street when Wilson, a white officer, ordered him to move to the sidewalk. Renner said the exchange escalated and ended with Wilson firing multiple — ultimately fatal — shots at Brown, who was unarmed.

“It was said that he physically assaulted the officer, but witnesses say that he had his hands in the air, which is the universal symbol for ‘don’t shoot,’” junior Taylr Davis said.

A Saint Mary’s-hosted forum on the racial tensions surrounding Brown’s death inspired Renner and Davis to team up with Assistant Director of Student Involvement and Multicultural Services Bianca Tirado and fellow students to take a stand.

“After attending a forum here at Saint Mary’s last month on the topic, I wanted to enable the students, faculty and staff of our community to be a part of raising awareness of the injustices that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri,” Renner said.

Protestors wore black t-shirts with “#DONTSHOOT” printed across the front in bold white letters, Renner said. The peaceful and silent demonstration ended with a group photo.

“We are standing together as a community to take a picture with our hands up to show our desire for peace,” Renner said. “This picture will be taken not only in remembrance of Brown, but also the many other victims that have died at the sake of injustice.”

Participants who did not purchase the shirt were asked to wear a black t-shirt “to not only allow our #DONTSHOOT message to stand out during the picture, but to also symbolize mourning for the victims that we are representing in our picture,” Renner said.

“We picked the color black because it signifies mourning,” Davis said. “We are mourning the loss of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and all the other individuals that have lost their lives because of this horrible epidemic.”

Renner said she hoped the demonstration would draw more media attention to Brown’s death and social injustice.

“We want our message to stand out in the photo,” Renner said. “If we all are expressing the message, it will show our unity as a community.”

When Renner proposed the idea of a protest, she received a remarkable amount of immediate support from not only students but also faculty and staff, Renner said.

“Saint Mary’s College is strongly rooted in unity among its community members,” Renner said. “I wanted to be able to bring attention to a very important matter to a very important place to many students ­— this is our home. We are proud to host the event on Saint Mary’s campus because we are members of a community that speaks out against injustice and stands up for the rights of others.”

Davis said hosting the demonstration on Saint Mary’s campus was significant because such reactions to current and controversial topics are rare on campus.

“Things such as this do not happen at Saint Mary’s,” Davis said. “We have talks, and we may debate in class, but we wanted to show the entire community our concern. We wanted to make everyone know that this is a serious matter.”

Davis said she hopes this event will inspire aspiring student activists in the area.

“What I personally hope comes of this demonstration is understanding … but also I hope this is the catalyst to other events such as this one,” Davis said. “I hope we spark a flame which allows other girls to speak up against what they feel is wrong.”

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About Alex Winegar

A junior at Saint Mary's, Alex is a Communicative Sciences and Disorders major. She serves as the Saint Mary's co-associate news editor. Alex enjoys traveling, food and spending time in "The Mitten."

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