Immediately after the controversial verdict where police officer, Darren Wilson, was not convicted for the shooting of Michael Brown, the internet blew up. In mere seconds, statuses were updated, messages were sent and event invites were accepted for the next course of action: protest.
That following Tuesday evening on Nov. 25, with classes finished and transportation plans made, students piled in cars and made their way to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
The event was sponsored by Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), a self-described “national coalition of antiwar and civil rights organizations.” The local Manatee and Sarasota branch, ANSWER Suncoast, organized the protest.
Attendees were told to bring signs and posters to vocalize their opinion in a peaceful, non-violent manner.
Unfortunately, the weather put a halt to these plans. Instead, the group of protesters huddled under a roof to avoid the rain that had been pouring all day, making any chance of a protest impossible. This, however, did not discourage the organizers from turning the event into a learning experience.
Prior to the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, 22-year-old Elias Guadarrama and 23-year-old Rodney Mitchell had both tragically lost their lives during encounters with the Sarasota and Bradenton police force. Their mothers, Omega Velez and Natasha Clemons, respectively, were present at the protest to speak about their experiences.
“We can make a change,” Clemons said, who described the incident as having felt as if it had been “two minutes ago.” She said, “All of our lives matter, including our children’s.”
Velez took a moment to thank the group of protesters who had arrived to support the cause.
“First of all, thank you for coming,” Velez said. “Every time we protest like this, we are happy to see you all be here, supporting us.”
Both mothers also touched on issues of race.
“Her son is Hispanic, my son is African-American,” Clemons said. “But, if both of them receive surgery, and they had to bleed, the blood is red no matter what. I know that we are one, and we should be considered one. It shouldn’t be that one is treated better than the next, because that’s not unity.”
Velez commented on the “broken” system.
“This is for the nation,” Velez said. “Black, white, Mexican, any kind of race. This is a broken system and we need to fix it. And the only way we can fix it is through letting them know that something is wrong. The system is wrong. It’s broken and it needs to be fixed.”
The discussion then focused on specific ways to target and rectify the criminal system. Individuals spoke out and discussed targeting gun control laws, educating and reforming the police force, and placing a higher scrutiny on the judicial process.
The crowd also chanted slogans, such as “People, united, will never be defeated!” and “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! These killer cops have got to go!”
Throughout the event, a petition was passed and signed by the crowd. Individuals signed their names below a statement expressing dissatisfaction with the judicial decision and issues of police brutality in general.
“I am so happy right now, and I am so inspired by the youth,” Bryan Ellis said on the turnout.
Originally from the Sarasota area, Ellis, a member of ANSWER Suncoast, had gotten in contact with Clemons through a suggestion. While attending a rally, Ellis had also come in contact with Velez.
“I think that the verdict yet again exposed [the] white supremacist nature of our judicial system, and criminal justice system,” Ellis said. “And it has propelled the people to a better form of understanding what the system is. And it is going to motivate people to fight against it.”
ANSWER Suncoast is potentially organizing a march in the near future, as well as a campaign for local reform on police activity.
Of the nearly eighty individuals that had shown up to the protest, a significant amount were New College students.
“It’s not a secret that our college is predominantly white,” first year Ijeoma Uzoukwu said. She had heard of the protest through Facebook.
Uzoukwu originally planned to start an ANSWER branch on campus. Students, however, can still get involved with the group Students Targeting Oppressive Powers (STOP) that exists on campus.
“There aren’t a lot of safe spaces for students of color,” Uzoukwu said. “And so I think that it’s important for white students at New College to see that when students of color are talking about microaggressions, the use of slurs or cultural appropriation that it’s not an insignificant thing. It’s indicative of a larger problem that occurs in what’s happening in Ferguson.”
More information can be accessed at liberationnews.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, or the ANSWER Suncoast Facebook page.