As the scene in Missouri turns violent — the governor has ordered the deployment of the National Guard to the city of Ferguson early on Monday — student activists at Penn are preparing a town hall meeting this Sunday in memory of Michael Brown.
Leaders from black student organizations under the UMOJA umbrella organized the town hall event to bring different groups together from within the Penn community for a discussion on the shooting as well as a future plan of action to move against police brutality.
“We want the conversation to be focused on action, [such as] ideas for initiatives people want to take, legislation that we can support,” said Wharton senior and UMOJA political chair Nikki Hardison, who is one of the organizers of Sunday's event.
Though the event is being led by student leaders from UMOJA student groups like the NAACP and Black Wharton Undergraduate Association, Hardison emphasized that this is an event for everyone.
“Even though black Americans are the mains ones being affected ... when certain citizens aren’t being given the full benefit of their rights, when protesters are tear gassed in America, that should be something that concerns everybody,” she said.
The event on Sunday will not be the first event concerning Brown’s death in Philadelphia. Protestors gathered last week as part of a national day of silence to remember those who have died as a result of police brutality, and another protest will be held at 52nd and Market streets tomorrow at 6 p.m.
Brown was an unarmed 18-year-old black man who was shot by a police officer on August 9 in the middle of a street in Ferguson, Mo. The police department in Ferguson has been slow to give details surrounding the circumstances of his death, causing widespread criticism. The first official autopsy result was announced earlier today that Brown was shot six times, twice in the head. Many are calling it a case of police brutality.
This year’s case brings back memories of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black student who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in a gated community in Florida. Zimmerman claimed that he acted in self-defense at the time when he shot the teenager, though Martin was unarmed. Zimmerman was charged with murder and acquitted, a decision that caused widespread protests.
For many black students on campus, Michael Brown’s death hits “close to home,” Hardison said.
The Martin case, along with what is happening in Ferguson and a rash of other similar instances of killing unarmed individuals, is part of the wider problems of how people of color are devalued and treated by the police, said Denzel Cummings, a College senior and co-chair of UMOJA.
“These events wake us up in the sense that we see that not only is there a problem with police brutality, but also with the way that people of color are perceived under the law in America,” he said.
While the protests last year against George Zimmerman did not result in any widespread change, both Cummings and Hardison believe that the protests this time around are different.
“I don’t think this is going to be another flare up. I think this is going to be a turning point,” Hardison said.
UPDATE: This article was updated to show that organizers are still determining the event's location.
CORRECTION: This article was updated to show that it will be a townhall meeting, not a demonstration.
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