“Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell!”
(Attempting to) study for finals, I heard these words echo through the tall structures of the Robert W. Woodruff Library. At first, I thought that the shouts would subside, and that I could eventually get back to reading Tumblr.
What I didn’t realize, however, is that I severely underestimated the power of a student movement.
Historically speaking, students have often been at the center of progressive movements. LGBTQ rights, sexual assault prevention, environmental issues and net neutrality have all been key issues on the student agenda. From across the globe, students have both cultivated their minds at our nation’s many universities and have formed a diverse array of opinions of key issues. Free from the limits of home, students have taken to the streets to shout to those who observe that they are the agents of change.
However, not until this moment did I realize that civil rights are an issue yet to be crossed off.
Recently, I wrote an op-ed noting that the media had already forgotten about Ferguson – a place plagued by a history of tension, injustice and most importantly, inequality. News outlets stopped covering the story, treating it as another isolated incident.
As recent events have shown, what happened to Michael Brown wasn’t an isolated incident. The patterns present in Ferguson show that Ferguson isn’t the only place where injustice has occurred. There is evidence that Brown’s death isn’t just an isolated incident, but rather an indication of a pattern of violence that occurs across the nation every day. Eric Garner’s death proved just that.
Ferguson was an incident that was by no means small or insignificant. Brown was shot dead; whether his death was an act of self-defense or racial prejudice, we may never really know. The act itself was heinous, but unfortunately, it was soon forgotten. Police Officer Darren Wilson’s non-indictment, however, exposed a key flaw in our society that allowed for Brown’s death to occur without justice. The system had already buried Brown long before he was killed that very night – the protests died, the media shifted perspective and ultimately, we simply didn’t care anymore. Even I kept this issue at the back of mind for so many months.
But, indictment is a different story. The United States of America watched, twice, the system’s true nature being exposed in the raw on television. In those moments, we saw an evil twist of the term “innocent until proven guilty.” In those moments, we saw the system’s cruel and unusual punishment of Brown and Garner, along with their families and loved ones. In those moments, our justice system did not represent “We, the People,” but rather “They, the People.”
Even conservative bloggers like Charles Krauthammer have joined in the chorus saying the system was wrong. They, too, realize that there was a flaw in the handling of Garner’s case. Why had the grand jury chosen to not even give those grieving for Garner a voice in court? More importantly, how could both these non-indictments happen despite mounting statistical evidence that such outcomes are rare?
Regardless of what those who would defend the grand juries may claim, we cannot help but say that there are flaws present both in the justice system and our national discussion on race. The United States is blessed with a Constitution that does protect human rights in theory – we are a nation that doesn’t kill people by the thousands daily and have blessed our citizens with a Bill of Rights, guaranteeing freedoms that are as old and protected as our Constitution. However, as these past events have shown, the citizenship in the United States hasn’t afforded true equality to all in this nation.
Social movements are only successful whenever those who participate in the movement can convince those in power to listen to their collective voice. In essence, social movements take much time, patience, blood, sweat and tears; however, they are by far the most democratic and successful method of affecting true change.
Change can begin in the streets of New York or on Clifton Road. There are hundreds of brave souls who are, in essence, truly wishing to tell the world that they are aware of the causes behind Garner’s, Brown’s and many others’ deaths, and that they are angry.
Yet, change only continues if movements can propose solutions and create harmony out of discord. This aspect of the social movement is what requires even more effort than the former. While peaceful protest is the beginning of a necessary dialogue, there are other aspects of the solution that need to be maintained in order for a social movement to be successful. Awareness, education and the willingness to compromise are distinct elements of a successful social movement.
Thus we, the Emory community, have the ability to affect what is happening around us. We can protest, we can stand in the streets, we can shout at the top of our lungs. We can become social activists, civil rights lawyers and politicians who listen to the will of the people. We were blessed with this opportunity, the opportunity to cultivate our minds and discuss with those around us these horrible events without fear of repercussion.
The potential for the discussion that could occur at Emory can extend far beyond the reaches of the classroom or Wonderful Wednesday. At Emory, as with many universities across the nation, the community has the ability to engage in a dialogue without fear of persecution. We can be the voice of strength for the weak. We can speak for the minority struggling for representation. We can protest an injustice in the library without fear of being attacked. Solidarity is very possible; however, an informed public declaration of injustice involves that all those wishing to participate in a dialogue advocating for change be aware of both the problems and potential solutions.
Finals are around the corner, which will make it much more difficult on the community to actually focus on this issue. However, the only way we can extend this discussion is if we keep Brown and Garner alive in our minds and hearts. I am not urging aggravating protest or violence by any means, but rather awareness of what happened these past couple of weeks, and how these events relate to critical flaws in our society.
Emory students can create a movement that extends beyond our university, but this requires a continued dedication towards understanding just how our system is broken. This commitment is the first step to contributing towards the social movement rather than contributing towards prejudice. We cannot go to sleep and think these events are isolated and over. We cannot allow the dreams of those grieving for Michael Brown and Eric Garner to die.
Somnath Das is a College sophomore from Warner Robins, Georgia.