There’s one student dressed in an orange jumpsuit. Another with a noose around his neck and a third student wearing a chain.
The three students, College junior Gina Dukes, College senior Breanna Moore and Wharton and Engineering junior Jamal Taylor, were each meant to represent a different era in United States history where black people have been oppressed. They carried signs that read 1814, 1914, 2014.
They stood on the Button, the statue in front of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, for hours on that October afternoon. A photo of that “Ferguson Friday” — as the members of Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation called it — has gotten over 13,000 notes on Tumblr and has been retweeted and shared on Twitter and Facebook many times.
“We wanted to make a bigger statement” than the discussions about race hosted by campus groups, Dukes said. “It arose out of the Mike Brown situation [in Ferguson] and us feeling fed up with the justice system. We felt like Penn was kind of silent on the issue. We wanted people to talk about it. We wanted people not to forget about it, like with Trayvon Martin.”
Every Friday since Oct. 3, members of SOUL and their supporters have protested on College Green. In their first “performance protest,” the students covered the LOVE statue with the names of people of color who have been killed by the police. Attached was a sign: “No More Martyrs.”
At another Ferguson Friday, four students laid down for four hours in front of the Benjamin Franklin statue by College Hall on top of a red cloth symbolizing blood — a nod to how long Michael Brown’s body was outside. At the most recent one on Nov. 14, they posted paper graves across College Green which represented people of color who were killed by police brutality.
Meanwhile, cities across the country, including Philadelphia, are gearing up to respond to potential protests in anticipation of the verdict in the case of the police officer Darren Wilson, who shot 18-year-old Brown. The governor of Missouri declared a state of emergency in the state on Monday in anticipation of hearing a verdict soon.
While there were many protests in August, September and even in October in the city, much of the public action related to Ferguson in Philadelphia has died down.
“We wanted to keep on inserting it in the consciousness of the student body to basically make a statement that it hasn’t stopped,” Dukes said.
But the question is, have they impacted people?
Moore, who is one of the core members in the demonstrations and a co-founder of SOUL, said the response has been “mixed.”
“We definitely have supporters and people who stop by to thank us for what we’re doing, [but] I feel like a lot of the response has been apathetic,” she said. Some of the positive responses include students from Temple University who have expressed interest in helping with the demonstrations, as well as recognition from other activists and bloggers.
As for the Penn reaction, many people took photos of the group’s display on Friday, but would quickly move on.
A graduate student in the design school, Zhang Ge, who stopped to read the signs at the demonstration, said the demonstration was “crucial.” One student walking by said “What is this?” to a friend and the friend responded “Ferguson Fridays!” without hesitation.
The responses are not always that good. Dukes recalled that at the protest where they lay on the ground for four hours, many passersby did not even stop. “It was funny because they were just sitting on their laptops and unfazed by what we were doing,” she said referring to people who were sitting on the benches on College Green.
Regardless of the response, the group plans to continue their demonstrations.
“It won’t stop until we do something about it — the injustice lives on beyond Penn’s campus, and it’s something that we should care about,” Dukes said.
Staff Writer Jennifer Wright contributed reporting.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect that Breanna Moore is also a co-founder of the group.Comments powered by Disqus
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