Middlebury College students stand with Michael Brown
MIDDLEBURY — More than 100 students, faculty and staff stood, silently, arms raised in front of Mead Chapel on the campus of Middlebury College Monday afternoon.
The time was 1:01 p.m., the same time of day that Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. The shooting of the 18-year-old black man reignited a national discussion on racism and police brutality, especially after a grand jury last week declined to bring charges against the officer, Darren Wilson.
The event this past Monday was organized by Middlebury College students to raise awareness of Brown’s and other police shootings, especially of people of color.
After a moment of silence to reflect on Brown’s death, freshman Rubby Paulino read a list of other young men that have been killed by police in recent years.
“Eleven hundred miles from Ferguson, here I stand, just as brown, just as young and just as dangerous to America,” said Paulino, who identifies as a person of color. “Ferguson was not a drop in the ocean, but rather a ripple of great magnitude.”
Paulino cited a study by the organization Malcolm X Grassroots Movement that found that every 28 hours, a black man is killed by a police officer, security guard or vigilante in the United States.
“I read that people like me, people from the same ’hoods as me, people that were the same brown as me, would be shot, killed and forgotten,” Paulino, who grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, said.
Paulino continued to say that the shooting of Michael Brown was just another example of the racial divisions among Americans that persisted through the Civil Rights Movement.
“It told me that America was a lie, that America wasn’t post-race,” Paulino said. “In fact, America has yet to face race.”
RUBBY PAULINO, CENTER, addresses the crowd. Independent photo/Trent Campbell
After his remarks, Paulino invited those in the crowd — who represented many different races and ethnicities — to give each other a hug, which many did.
“These are your friends and allies,” Paulino said. “Look to each other for places of comfort and unity. We can rewrite our history and you, being here today, gives me no doubt about that.”
After the rally, seniors Jackie Park and Carter Kelly, who both identify as persons of color, said they came out to show their solidarity with the residents of Ferguson.
“I think it’s important that we fight against the white supremacist system that is causing this type of violence to be repeated throughout history,” Kelly said. “This is not a new problem; this is not something that hasn’t happened before and isn’t something that won’t happen again.”
Carter said it is important to have discussions about race even in Vermont, where 96 percent of residents identify as white.
“There are still people here that have to deal with these issues and this oppression every day,” Carter said. “I live here and I have to deal with this every day.
Park, who is of Asian descent, said it is important to recognize that non-whites of different races share a host of different experiences.
“Whites and non-black people of color often don’t take the lead on this type of organizing,” Park said. “For me, police brutality and racial profiling by the police is not a reality, but understanding that it exists and taking the lead on organizing about this is important.”
Paulino said he was inspired to organize the event in Middlebury after attending a rally in New York while home for Thanksgiving.
Asked if he identified with the plight of Ferguson residents, Paulino said that he has not personally experienced harassment by police, but acknowledged that distrust of police officers exists in his New York City neighborhood.
“I don’t find comfort in the police in my neighborhood,” Paulino said.
He said that in places like Vermont and Middlebury College it is especially important to talk about racial issues because the population of non-whites is so small.
“I think it’s even more important, because here you have people with a lot of privilege,” he said. “Not to discredit protests or demonstrations in more urban places … but to change the minds of the people here, who do have privilege, could change legislation, could change society.”
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