Over 100 days ago, Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, Jr. Now, Prosecutor Robert McCulloch has announced the verdict of the grand jury tasked with deciding whether to indict or not: Officer Wilson will not be tried.
Across the US, protests have occurred. Inflammatory and hateful speech has been thrown at Black people and our supporters in public and on social media, including calling us animals, and applauding violence against us.
On top of all this—protesting, threats, violence, and the sheer implication of our non-personhood in America—many of us are also dealing with prep for finals. At my school, next week is dead week. We’re almost at the end of the term, and it’s so hard to focus on school.
Mike Brown was shot at the end of summer term, and I struggled to focus on my finals. I went to Ferguson with the Black Lives Matter Ride, a national convergence to show solidarity and support for protestors. My local group took several bags of donations and 21 people from Oregon and Washington to Missouri. Once we returned, it was hard to go back to normal life, and prep for the start of the school year.
This entire term has been hard. I’ve had trouble focusing on deadlines and lectures: it felt like I needed to be following protestors’ updates, raising funds, gathering donations, spreading information. Local organisations in Ferguson and St Louis put out hiring announcements, and I frequently considered quitting school and moving across the country to be there. What was the point of staying in Oregon and graduating, when I or any of my peers could be shot for our skin colour?
I had settled into a vague discontent by the middle of the term. But now, week 9, it’s been disrupted. The announcement that there won’t be an indictment—that Mike Brown’s life isn’t even worth a trial in court—has me ready to quit again.
On Monday morning, I got out of class to find my social media plastered with the news that the announcement was coming. I caught up on things during my lunch break, and then went to my next class, fretting the announcement would come. I thought about asking my professor if I could have my phone out, since I would get a text when the announcement happened, but I arrived to find he’d given us the day. I went to wait for the announcement in our multicultural center. I could barely focus until the press conference started. I tried to keep my expectations low, but when it soon became clear that there would be no indictment, I found myself aching with hurt and fear.
And then I had to go home, work on homework, get up and go to class the next morning? How?
University is generally accepted as an acceptable stressor. The reasoning seems to be that the “real world” is not easy, so we should make higher education as rigid and difficult as possible, to “prepare” students. But stress can have a really terrible effect on the body, and racism is a particularly harsh form of stress, with widespread consequences. With two sources of severe stress compounding each other, the struggle to graduate is one that may end with dire consequences for students of colour.
Almost as soon as the grand jury announcement was done, my university’s president sent a short message out to all students:
Perhaps the most galling thing about this email is the failure to acknowledge Portland’s history of anti-Blackness, or the hostility and harassment Black students frequently face on our campus. But almost as bad is the assumption that we cannot be hurt and angry and still calm, that we can’t be trusted to “appropriately” address our feelings or show “restraint”. The implication is that we are children, unable to control our emotions and impulses, an anti-Black stereotype with a long history.
Am I angry? Absolutely. Am I hurt? Without a doubt. Does that mean I’m going to be violent or unable to express thoughtfulness or restraint? Not at all—and taking the time to remind me shows a lack of trust and an infantilised view of me and every other student on my campus.
Events are still unfolding in Ferguson. Protestors took Thanksgiving off to clean their community up and spend time with their families, but with thousands of National Guard members and police officers, things are likely far from over, and will get bad again. That being the case, I don’t know how I’m going to get through the next two weeks, and I don’t know if I will pass all of my classes, but I do know that the message being sent is getting through loud and clear: I, and people like me, are not to be trusted.
No wonder, then, that we’re angry. Unfortunately, that anger is almost as dangerous to our health as a police officer’s bullet. The offensive treatment by our own universities is hard to swallow, and it points to just how far out of touch our “liberal” places of higher learning can be from the wants and needs of students. Must we also fight our universities for recognition of our identities?
After starting the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Rosa Parks said, “the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” There’s no way to know where the movement for racial equity will go from here, but I know that folks are tired of giving in.
And maybe that means there’s hope yet.