Though most colleges haven’t even started classes yet, that hasn’t stopped those who are already on campus from raising their voices in solidarity with Michael Brown and the community of Ferguson, Mo.
Students at Howard University organized a picture for their incoming freshman class with their hands raised in the air, symbolizing Brown’s alleged last words after he put his hands up at the officer saying “don’t shoot.”
On Aug. 15, the Harvard Black Law Students Association posted a similar photo on social media with their hands raised, and also announced the launch of their #HandsUpDontShoot campaign. The students and alumni involved in making the photo collage made it clear that the picture is just the jumping off point of a much larger civil rights campaign that will focus on police brutality and how black Americans are treated by U.S. law enforcement.
“The reality is that even though we are students at one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, we are still subject to the same prejudices and biases that possibly led to Michael Brown’s death,” McKenzie Morris, president of the HBLSA, told BuzzFeed. “In the wake of the killings of unarmed victims Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, and now Michael Brown, there is no time like the present to get active.”
Morris said students who are currently on Harvard’s campus coordinated the photo, collected individual pictures from other students who weren’t physically present, created a basic mission for their #HandsUpDontShoot campaign, and wrote a press release all within 24 hours. The HBLSA wants other friends, classmates, and peers outside of their organization to also get involved because “this problem is not a problem that only affects black Americans, but all Americans.”
“We must utilize the resources available to us at Harvard Law School to ideally bring about change in more tangible ways,” Morris said, “such as legislation reform and civil rights activism training.”
She added, “If we don’t address police brutality as a whole then unfortunate killings like Michael Brown’s might continue. No matter their upbringing, socioeconomic level, or educational background, black Americans share the same fear when they walk down the streets of this country. This unfortunate incident could happen to any of us, so we felt the need to stand for a continued cause.”
Students have started to brainstorm how to affect change for this national issue locally by working with city politicians and law enforcement. Morris said the HBLSA is hard at work so that as soon as everyone arrives back on campus to begin the semester, students can jump right in. Right now, some of their ideas include workshops, guest speakers, and lunch discussions.
“A few years ago we stood in solidarity for Trayvon Martin in a picture of hooded members of HBLSA,” she said. “Sadly, we are still in the same position today. We are all fortunate to be students at Harvard Law School, and it is our responsibility to use our legal educations to speak up on issues that affect us all.”
Morris added, “Raising awareness through a powerful picture is a good start, but there is so much more to be done.”