Middlebury College students stage ‘die-in’

MIDDLEBURY — About 40 Middlebury College students on this past Wednesday evening took part in a “die-in” to raise awareness about police oppression of minority groups.
The event was organized by freshmen Kizzy Joseph and Elizabeth Dunn, and senior Molly Stuart. The trio said the impetuses for the die-in were the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner — black men who died at the hands of police in Missouri and New York, respectively.
But organizers said the event was aimed at all minorities, who they said are disproportionately targeted by police.
At about 10:30 p.m., the group of students filed into the Ross Dining Hall on campus and lay motionless on the floor, many laying prone for most of the half-hour event. Many students were eating there during a finals week “Midnight Breakfast.”
Some participants in the die-in read prepared statements, and the group chanted, “I can’t breathe,” a reference to what witnesses to Garner’s death said the Staten Island man told police as officers pinned him to the ground. The die-in, which lasted about half an hour, culminated with organizers asking everyone in the dining hall to stand in solidarity with Brown, Garner and other victims of what they allege was police brutality.
Dunn said the die-in elicited a mixed reaction from the students in the dining hall.
“Some people were definitely moved by the event, and wanted to get more involved,” she said. “Some were uncomfortable or outwardly disrespectful.”
Dunn said most students opted to stand alongside the die-in participants at the end of the demonstration, and she was shocked that some chose not to.
“It was powerful to see people stand up and feel involved, but at the same time so hard to believe that people didn’t stand up,” she said.
The die-in was not the work of a single student group or organization, Joseph said, but rather a smattering of students of different races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations and other identities.
Stuart said the demonstrators represented a more racially diverse group than the student body as a whole. About half of the participants, including Joseph and Dunn, identified as persons of color. Stuart said the die-in was intended to spark a discussion about racial tensions in the United States, which Middlebury College and Addison County, though racially homogenous, are not immune from.
“Even though Middlebury is somewhat is removed from that (police) violence and killing, we’re implicated as students at an institution that has a lot of power in society,” Stuart said. “The way that we respond to what’s going on outside of Middlebury has an impact.”
Joseph said that across the U.S., people are reluctant to discuss race, even though it remains a deeply divisive issue in this country.
“We need to get active concerning issues on racism,” Joseph said. “We never address it at all, either on campus or in general.”
This was not the first event on campus inspired by the Brown and Garner cases, which both resolved in grand juries declining to bring any charges against police. On Dec. 1, students, faculty and staff gathered in front of Mead Chapel for speeches and reflection on the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer.
Stuart said the Brown and Garner cases are just two of many examples of excessive force used by police in recent years. She said she hopes Americans are able to corral the anger and frustration felt by many after the absolution of police officers by jurors in both cases, and channel it into a cohesive demand for reform.
“We’re looking for a unified social movement,” she said. “The impetus is not new and is not unique. The police abuse of state power has been going on throughout the history of the United States.”
Joseph cautioned that the goal of the die-in was to spur other conversations about race, privilege and state-sponsored oppression on campus when students return in January.
“This is definitely not the end,” she said.

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