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Community unites at vigil

Published: September 5, 2014
Section: Front Page, News


Over 200 members of the Brandeis community gathered in front of Chapel’s Pond on the night of Sept. 4, in a show of solemn solidarity with people of color who have been killed by law enforcement across the United States due to racial profiling. The event was organized by multiple student clubs, including the Men and Women of Color Alliances, the Brandeis Black Student Organization, the Brandeis African Students Association and Students Organized Against Racism.

The event, a candlelit vigil followed by a moderated town hall discussion, was also sponsored by the Brandeis Intercultural Center, University Police, Department of Student Life and the African and Afro-American Studies Department (AAAS).

Justin Cates ’17 opened the vigil by specifying that though the event was organized in remembrance of the recent tragic death of Michael Brown, whose shooting death at the hands of a Ferguson, MO, police officer has caused mass unrest and protests in the area, the scope was much larger.

He asked the gathered crowd, which included students, faculty and community friends, to remember other law enforcement-related deaths this year such as John Crawford, a man shot by police while carrying a toy gun in a Walmart in Ohio, and Eric Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by several members of the NYPD while screaming that he could not breathe.

These, along with a long list of other names reaching back to the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, promoted a message with wide historical and social implications.

“This is not about attacking cops or saying all members of law enforcement are the enemy,” Cates said to the crowd. “This is about reflecting on lives stolen because of a structural prejudice that sadly still exists in our country.” Cates also spoke of the privilege awarded to him as a Brandeis student. “I know that outside this school and my attire, I am just seen as a tall, large, nameless black man who can easily be profiled as a threat.”

Similar sentiments were evoked by Brandeis University President Frederick M. Lawrence, who spoke after.

“No one person or group can be blamed as the villain,” said Lawrence. “Rather, prejudice, ignorance and violence are at fault.” Lawrence also said that “Brandeis should be a place where [the campus community] can come together to discuss and seek to solve these problems with one another.”

Other members of the university administration were in attendance, including Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel and Dean of Students Jamele Adams. Adams performed a passionate and evocative piece of slam poetry, in which he detailed his reactions as an African-American male to “questions about what I think of situations where boys are being killed for being black.”

Other speakers included Aliya Nealy ’15 and Amaris Brown ’16, who delivered impassioned oratory on the history of racism in the United States and urged such to intersect with topics such as gender, sexuality and more. After a song in Hebrew dedicated to peace and a show of solidarity by Reverend Walter Cuenin and Imam Dr. Talal Eid, there were further performances, including the poem “I, Too” by Langston Hughes read by D’Andre Young ’15 and speeches on African-American identity from AAAS Undergraduate Department Representative Khadijah Lynch ’16.

Brandeis Department of Public Safety Head Ed Callahan, as well as two members of the Brandeis Police Department, expressed solidarity with victims of police brutality and asserted his belief in the need for police that truly protect and serve the community.

After candles that students had been given were lit for a moment of silence, the crowd moved into Berlin Chapel for a moderated forum discussion, during which attendees shared moving personal stories and opinions.