A small group of University students, staff and faculty gathered for a demonstration called “Hands Up, Walk Out” on Wescoe Beach today in honor of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9.
The demonstration was part of a national movement organized by Hands Up United, a group that was formed in response to the Ferguson protests. The group has posted a list of demands on its website (www.handsupunited.org) including more accountability for officers’ actions, release of those arrested during protests and transparency in police and justice departments across the country.
Megan Kaminski, an assistant professor in the department of English, created the event Aug. 24, when she discovered the University did not have a Hands Up United protest scheduled.
As the demonstration went on, more and more members of the community joined. There were about 50 protesters by the end of protest. Those participating put their hands up, demonstrating the nonviolent pose that witnesses have said Brown held when Officer Darren Wilson shot him. Police have said Brown attacked Wilson.
“I had some friends in other parts of the country who talked about going to events like this and I looked to see if there was an event like this happening at KU and I saw there wasn’t one,” Kaminski said.
Kaminski added that she felt she needed to do something as an educator.
“Knowing that I was going into that and knowing that today should have been Mike Brown’s first day at class, it made me feel like something needed to be done,” she said. “We needed to get together and create an environment where people can come out and talk and share their frustrations.”
Attendees included both faculty and students who stood in solidarity with Michael Brown.
Katherine Gwynn, a senior from Olathe, said she believes events like “Hands Up, Walk Out” are important because she said she believes Americans live in a systemically-racist society, and these events help point out issues that she believes need to be changed.
“It’s just trying to raise the voices of people of color, especially black people concerning what’s been happening around Ferguson,” she said. “It’s raising a conversation that’s necessary and isn’t talked about enough, and unless we continue talking about, the conversation around it will die out and no change will be made.”
As part of Monday’s event, attendees were invited to stand up and speak about what happened and what they believed. Kaminski said she believes the issues raised by Brown’s death are relevant to students.
“I think sometimes in a university community, we can feel like we’re isolated from this, but... this very much a real part of people’s lives and I think sometimes we don’t like to have difficult conversations,” Kaminski said. “I also think it was important that everyone got to speak and express their feelings about it. That’s why I made it more open.”
Students including Austin Fisher, a senior majoring in journalism from Lawrence, have been getting involved in the Ferguson story through other protests as well. Fisher helped organize a small protest on Aug. 17, where attendees used the human microphone, a protest tactic used in Occupy Wall Street in which the audience repeats parts of a speaker’s speech for greater emphasis.
“I thought that there was a lot of victim blaming going on, and I thought there were a lot of statements being made that were distracting from the real issue,” he said.
Fisher said the Aug. 17 protest was not limited to the killing of Mike Brown but also included police actions following including the release of Officer Darren Wilson’s name, the footage of what happened and the treatment of journalists and peaceful protesters.
"The injustice wasn’t just limited to the death of Michael Brown and the point of the protest wasn’t just limited to the death of Michael Brown,” Fisher said. “The point of the protests was to tell people, ‘hey, this is a national issue. This issue has been a problem for the 400-year history of this country.’”
— Edited by Miranda Davis