While much of the Homewood campus was concerned with studying for upcoming finals, a group of students drew attention to a larger national issue.
In protest of the decisions not to indict the police officers responsible for the deaths of African-American men Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the Black Student Union (BSU) held a “die-in protest” in the Brody Learning Commons (BLC) on Tuesday evening.
Approximately 120 students, most of whom were undergraduates, lay on the ground for 45 minutes, symbolizing the four and a half hours during which Brown’s dead body was left on the street in Ferguson, Mo. after he was shot by Darren Wilson, a white police officer.
The protesters blocked both the B Level and Q Level entrances to the BLC, forcing passersby to step over protesters as they entered and exited the building.
Students studying in the BLC had mixed reactions to the protest. Some found the demonstration to be disruptive, grumbling as they stepped over participants and shushing the protesters as they organized themselves. Others expressed their support and took pictures of the protests.
Many of the participants lay under signs that contained popular slogans for the recent protest movement, including “Black Lives Matter,” “Am I Next?” and “Don’t Kill My Brothers.”
Four Hopkins security personnel watched over the event, but they made no effort to restrict or interfere with the protest.
The die-in also featured an audio component; a speaker played Garner’s last words – “I can’t breathe” – as well as commentary relating to his death. Garner died after white police officer Daniel Pantaleo held him in a chokehold for 19 seconds on July 17 in Staten Island, N.Y. Garner was being arrested on the charge of selling untaxed cigarettes, and the entire incident was recorded by a bystander.
“Since we didn’t have voices, we wanted to have the voice of Eric Garner speak for us,” BSU member and protest leader Enya Baez-Ferreras said. “We thought that looping the audio, hearing constantly ‘I can’t breathe’ would make all the statement that we needed.”
The protest ended with a chant of “Black Lives Matter” that echoed through the BLC.
“I think the protest was a success,” Baez-Ferreras said. “We’re Hopkins students and we care about this issue. There’s enough of us to make it a very visible issue.”
The demonstration also protested against police brutality in general.
“We want people to see that black lives matter,” BSU member Alison Watts said. “Black people are killed 21 times more often than others by police brutality. Hearing some of the comments of some of people walking by, it seems they were more upset by the inconvenience than by actually listening to our message.”
Mahdieh Hosseini, a senior who was studying in the BLC during the protest, said that she agreed with the cause but didn’t feel moved to participate in the protest.
“I see value in the protest, [but] I am not participating because different people have different ways of expressing when there’s an injustice,” Watts said. “Honestly, a lot of undergraduates at Hopkins don’t know about this and if they know about it, they really don’t care.”
BSU Publicity Chair Tiffany Onyejiaka said that the group chose to hold the protest in the BLC because they knew many students would be forced to notice the event.
“At Hopkins, Brody is the place you’re going to get the most people [to see an event],” Onyejiaka said. “I wish more students would’ve stopped and asked questions, more dialogue about institutionalized racism. This is something that is very real. Mike Brown was starting college in two days. How many black students are here [at Hopkins]? It could’ve been any one of us.”