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Campus protests spark school-wide dialogue

The killing of Michael Brown has spurred the whole country to demonstrate in the streets, and, at UMBC

On August 9, 2014, police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mississippi. While this much is known, the specific circumstances of the event and the validity of Wilson’s fatal actions have sparked heated reactions from the public.

According to some witnesses, Brown had his hands up when Wilson fired his last round. Other witnesses said Brown clearly was imposing an immediate threat to the officer, and was attempting to grab his weapon. The conflict in these two versions of the event has many Americans rioting and protesting.

UMBC students have seen many displays of unrest on campus over the past couple weeks. Once the grand jury announced their decision to not indict Darren Wilson, some students formed groups that could be seen protesting the very next day.

While some students found the protests to be disruptive, others found them inspiring. Junior music education major Bentley Corbett-Wilson said, “I find it incredible and am truly proud of other UMBC students for being so proactive in fighting for the justice of not only the family of Michael Brown, but for the justice of all African-Americans.”

Sociology professor Meryl Damasiewicz provided sociological insight in an attempt to explain why the reaction to this tragedy has been so fierce.

When analyzing the overarching purpose of these protest, Damasiewicz said, “The protest at UMBC – along with countless other protests, some in major cities, some on other campuses – is reflective of a collective knowledge that something is very wrong with America. Perhaps not everyone can put a finger on exactly what that “wrong” actually is, but there is a desire for social change.”

Damasiewicz offered her thoughts on criminal justice in the U.S. “It is not only that there are seemingly two criminal justice systems, but also that there are two Americas divided by a wedge that is created by nothing more or less than institutional racism. Whereas the system was indeed created to be race neutral, its very implementation is framed by those who are in the position of applying justice – both on the street and in the courts.” she said.

The root cause of this divergent system can be traced back to the very authorities that work within it. According to Damasiewicz, “the ideologies of those handling these tasks are encumbered by their own socialization and the values and norms that accompany their own ideologies.”

However, Damasiewicz believes that students raising their voices is a good thing. “Maintaining silence in any way makes an equally loud statement, but one that says that the status quo is acceptable. Bravo to the students who realize that silence and the perceived apathy derived from a collective silence will not do. The first step towards making change is realizing that a problem exists.”

Professor Damasiewicz had serious words about the social relevance of these protests. She said, “While some may not be able to explain the particular problem at hand, there are some things that we do know. History repeats itself if we allow it to do so. But all of the protests, including the one at UMBC, make it known that there needs to be change. A major systemic change so that what is happening to all of us does not continue.”