Protesters Blockade Mass. Ave. in Response to Ferguson Decision

UPDATED: December 1, 2014, at 9:21 p.m.

Hundreds of Harvard affiliates and Cambridge residents marched on Mass. Ave. and blockaded streets at the heart of Harvard Square early Monday afternoon in protest of a grand jury’s recent decision not to indict a white police officer who shot and killed a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., this summer.

Die-In
Dozens of students from Cambridge Ringe and Latin School and Harvard University lay in the street to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson. The walk-out began at 1:01 pm, the time at which Brown was shot, on Monday afternoon.

Students from a number of graduate schools—including the Graduate School of Education, the Kennedy School of Government, and the Divinity School— first joined Law School students shortly after noon outside of Wasserstein Hall to rally together in protest and hear from student and faculty speakers, many of whom had visited Ferguson recently.

Speakers shared personal anecdotes and challenged Harvard students to keep the issue alive through protest. Law School student Victoria I. White-Mason, who recently returned from Ferguson, said that she saw “13-year-olds getting tear-gassed” in the protests.

“Though I saw all those things, I still have hope,” said White-Mason. “I choose hope.”

Between speakers, Law School student Stanford Fraser led protesters in shouting chants like “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.”

At 1:01 p.m, Law School student Rebecca N. Chapman, one of the protest’s organizers, led the gatherers in a “die-in,” in which protesters laid down silently for 4 and a half minutes. According to Chapman, the duration of the “die-in” was intended to represent the length of time the body of the late Ferguson resident Michael Brown lay in the street before it was taken to a morgue—4.5 hours.

After the “die-in,” protesters walked across the Law School campus to the Science Center Plaza, where they joined with undergraduates and hundreds of students and teachers from nearby Cambridge Rindge and Latin School to walk together onto Mass. Ave.

The mass of protesters blockaded the streets, halting traffic, ultimately coming to a stop by the T stop in the center of the Square. 

No arrests were made on the scene and no injuries were reported, according to the Cambridge Police Department. Officers there appeared to permit the protest, marching alongside the protesters as they entered the streets and redirecting oncoming traffic on JFK St. and Mass. Ave. away from the center of the Square for the duration of the rally.

Similar walk-out and “die-in” style protests took place across the country Monday, including at other universities like Yale and Penn. Thousands of people around the country have protested peacefully and, at times, violently since last Monday, when a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing 18-year-old Michael Brown in August.

Near the harvard Sqaure T stop Monday, protesters were joined by Vice Mayor of Cambridge Dennis A. Benzan, who along with  Cambridge Rindge and Latin senior Sydney Fisher addressed the crowd.

“I am only asking for you help in continuing the conversation of race in America...this is not the end,” said Fisher, who led hundreds of her classmates to Harvard Square. “We need to step forward and take responsibility for the future of America.”

Benzan then stood atop a step, quieting chants led by Cambridge Rindge and Latin students to speak to the protesters.

“We are all Americans. Whether you’re white, you’re black, you’re brown, Latino, Asian, Jewish, Christian, or Muslim,” Benzan said. “ You are gathered here today because you want a more perfect union—you want a more perfect America.”

Protesters then joined together in another “die-in,” in the street in front of the Harvard Coop. After several more minutes of chanting, the crowd at Mass. Ave. dissipated shortly before 2 p.m. Protesters from Cambridge Rindge and Latin marched back to their campus through Harvard Yard.

According to Chapman, “seven or eight” students at the Law School began coordinating the Harvard protest last week, invited students from other Harvard schools to join, and reached out to faculty and students to speak at the rally in front of Wasserstein Hall. She said that the group had planned to meet up with Rindge and Latin students after the Wasserstein rally.

Protest in the Square
Vice Mayor of Cambridge Dennis Benzan addresses protesters gathered in Harvard Square with prepared remarks in support if equal treatment before the law.

“I’m hyped,” said GSE student Ola Abiose, who helped lead the GSE student-walk from Gutman Library to the protest Wasserstein Hall, during the march to Mass. Ave. “I like that we’re all here, showing solidarity.  The more we come out of our own hollow silos and collectively come together, the better.”

—Staff Writers Tyler S. Olkowski, Kamara A. Swaby, and Jill E. Steinman contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at meg.bernhard@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @Meg_Bernhard.

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