Students March to Protest Ferguson Verdict

Approximately 400 students, professors and staff members from the Claremont Colleges, along with members of the surrounding community, joined together Nov. 25 to march from Honnold/Mudd Library to Claremont City Hall. The march was part of the nationwide response to the Nov. 24 decision by a St. Louis County grand jury to not indict Darren Wilson for the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9.

Belmont Pinger PZ ’17, one of the event's student organizers, said that the march was held not only to show solidarity with the Ferguson community but also as a way to “stand up to the general system of policing and the institutionalized racism that exists in this system.”

Anna Leopold  PZ ’17, another student organizer, said that the initial idea for this march came from a climate conference for college students that she attended at the University of California, Davis, in November, where two Ferguson organizers spoke and invited students to lead solidarity actions on their respective campuses.

The Facebook event page encouraged students to walk out of classes and meet in front of Honnold/Mudd at 10:30 a.m. to attend the march. RaSia Khepra PO ’17 said he missed two classes the day of the march and that one of his classes joined the protest. He emphasized the importance of the march as a response to governmental power.

"The government will do anything legal or illegal, moral or insidious, especially when left unregulated,” Khepra said. “The people always have the power to act as the regulating body and not tolerate injustice.” 

For Nahlee Lin PO ’17, Nov. 25 was the first time she participated in a march or protest of any sort. Although she initially doubted whether enough students would participate, she found it "a very hopeful and affirming experience to be in solidarity with so many fellow students.”

In front of City Hall, participants observed four and a half minutes of silence to represent the four and a half hours that Brown’s body remained in the street surrounded by police vehicles after the shooting occurred. Participants were then invited to share testimonies or say anything they wanted to express. 

From City Hall, participants marched to the Claremont Police Department, where another rally was organized.

Gustavo Ramirez, the co-founder of a human rights organization based in Pomona Valley called Uniting Peace with Actions, Respect and Dignity (UPWARD), joined the march with four other UPWARD members.

“I thank the Claremont Colleges students for creating this,” Ramirez said. “This must be a beginning so that the work put into the march may not be in vain and especially so that Michael Brown’s death may not be in vain.”

During the march, Leopold said she saw many Claremont residents join the march, while others cheered from the sidewalks.

Rochelle Chappelle, owner of the Healthy Hair Bar in the Village, stood outside her business to watch protesters march through Bonita Ave., cheering in support, along with Helen Draper.

“I've lived in Claremont for 28 years, and I've never seen anything like this,” Draper said with tears in her eyes. “I raised four foster children throughout my life, and I know firsthand how unequal policing is in this country.”

While many responded positively to the march, Alex Jasienowski PZ '16 said she thought it should have been organized to give more space for students of color to express themselves. She said that a lot of white speakers focused on discomfort with their own privilege "instead of actually talking about the issues of white supremacy and how it infiltrates police brutality on black bodies."   

She added that she thought a chant, "Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter," was problematic.

"People understand that white lives matter. We understand that," she said. "The fact is is that there have been people who are not included, and we need to focus on including them." 

Jasienowski compared the Claremont event to a rally in L.A. the same day, which she and approximately 20 other students from the Claremont Colleges attended. At that rally, she said, "there was a focus on black leadership, which there was not a focus on here." 

However, Jasienowski said she still sees value in the Claremont protest if students continue to take action. 

Students will have the opportunity to participate today in another march, which is being co-organized by UPWARD, the Pomona Valley organization. Inspired by the Nov. 25 action and as part of a national call from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the march will begin at the Pomona Police Department at 3 p.m. and end in Claremont at the intersection of Indian Hill Blvd. and Holt Ave.

While students organized the protest last week, administrators across the Claremont Colleges emailed students in response to the Ferguson verdict to inform them of various available resources.

The Office of Black Student Affairs and the Asian American Resource Center were open Nov. 25 for students who wished to speak with someone about the verdict or the situation in Ferguson. The Draper Center was also open in the evening where students joined in “creating an informal community mural of feelings and planned actions,” according to a Nov. 25 email Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum sent to the Pomona College student body.

Pomona opened Walker Hall Lounge in the afternoon to serve as a community space where faculty and staff members were present to speak with members of the campus community. The Scripps Communities of Resources and Empowerment (SCORE) also held open hours in the afternoon. 

Similarly, Harvey Mudd College’s Office of Institutional Diversity hosted an open discussion in the Platt Living Room during lunch Nov. 25. Associate Dean for Institutional Diversity Sumun L. Pendakur wrote in an email to TSL that over 130 students, faculty members and staff members attended.

They "shared their thoughts and feelings, challenged one another, and talked about ways to continue the dialogue, as well as take action in individual ways and to dismantle systemic racism," Pendakur said. "At the end of our discussion, we spotted the 5C march headed through our campus and a number of us joined the march, culminating in a short rally on Pitzer's campus."