As action and awareness concerning police brutality and race relations spread throughout the nation, Vanderbilt students took to the front lines of the cause. Vanderbilt, Tennessee State University, and Fisk University students drove to Missouri over the weekend of Oct. 10-11 to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, racism in American police forces and violence against minorities.
The trip was organized by Vanderbilt students Christina Jones and Akailah Jenkins and included students from all walks of campus life.
“We don’t want to just talk about these problems, we want to take action,” said Alexis Jackson, who was one of 22 Vanderbilt students to take part in the trip.
Jackson said she believes there is activism around the issue on Vanderbilt’s campus, but it is only within a small, determined population. She said that interest in activism spiked after a September event called “Black Lives Matter,” which hosted discussions of racism, racial profiling and policing in the United States.
A majority of the students on the trip drove directly to downtown St. Louis, where they joined a large march and protest against the killing of Brown in Ferguson. A few others headed to Shaw, Missouri — just a few miles away from Ferguson — where Vonderrit Myers Jr. had recently been shot and killed by an off-duty police officer.
“Being an African American individual, I feel it is important to stand in solidarity with Michael Brown’s family and the whole community because these things happen way too often and I can’t just be complacent and living my everyday life when I know this could happen to anybody that I know,” Jackson said. “I feel like it was my duty to go.”
The student protestors were met with resistance in Shaw, where local police stopped their entrance into the city.
“As we got to Shaw, the police surrounded our car and told us all to put our hands up and asked what we were doing there. After they talked to everyone they told us we had to leave the city,” said Jackson. “A lot of us Vandy students objected to leaving because that was our right to protest. The police escorted us halfway back to the hotel.”
After regrouping at the hotel, Jackson said the group decided to try again. This time they were successful and were able to enter Shaw and show their support for Myers’ family and the community.
On the second day of the trip, the entire group of students met in downtown St. Louis to participate in a large march and protest. According to Jackson, hundreds of people of all ages and races showed up to lend their support.
“It was really inspiring to see not just people that looked like Michael Brown but tons of people from every shades of color and every age.”
While the majority of students headed back to Nashville after the St. Louis protest, a small group went to Ferguson to see the Michael Brown memorial and protest with the Ferguson community. That night there was a march and protest in front of the Ferguson police station led by Michael Brown’s mother.
“Seeing Mike Brown’s memorial and the apartment buildings where he was shot was a really overcoming, emotional experience. It was so shocking to see how he could be shot and killed in broad daylight, in the middle of the street, with no one being held responsible. That was a really tough experience,” Jackson said.
According to Jackson, the protest in Ferguson was the most hostile. Protesters were hurt and confused by the actions of the police. As they protested in front of the police station, protesters shouted questions to on-duty officers like, “How could you do this to the community?” and “How can you support this work?”
After the original group returned, another left to protest in Ferguson two weeks later. These students went to Missouri for two days, where many protested in marches and sit-ins around the city. According to Jackson, the trip was full of similar anger and frustration at police brutality in the area.