Community protests police brutality

by Annie Ma | 1/5/15 9:45pm

Over the winter interim period, Dartmouth students, faculty and community members led two separate demonstrations in response to the non-indictments of officers involved in the deaths of unarmed black men Michael Brown and Eric Garner. On Dec. 4, a group of Dartmouth faculty members organized a rally on Hanover’s Main Street to protest police brutality. On Dec. 10, Geisel students held a separate die-in as part of the National White Coat Die-In, a showing of solidarity by medical schools. African American Studies professor Reena Goldthree said that the idea to hold the first rally stemmed from the desire to participate in the national protest movement. The rally plans evolved quickly, a turnaround which demonstrates the frustration felt by those in the local community, Goldthree said. “[The time] from my initial email to the day of the protest was less than 24 hours,” Goldthree said. “Part of that is there are so many people in the Upper Valley who were looking for a way to express their outrage about what was going on in the series of non-indictments of police officers for the killing of unarmed men and women.” The rally drew a crowd of around 60 people, about 15 of whom were students on campus. It opened with remarks from four Dartmouth professors ­— Goldthree, Alexis Jetter, Annelise Orleck and Jeff Sharlet — and other community members. In her opening statement, Goldthree outlined the three broad aims for the demonstration: protesting state-sanctioned violence and racialized policing, participating in the movement to seek justice for those who have lost their lives to police violence and connecting the national movement to issues in the Upper Valley. Jetter, a women’s and gender studies professor, elaborated on the link between national issues and the Upper Valley. She presented two narratives of police brutality in the area. In 2012, Wayne Burwell ’97, a black man who passed out in his own home in Wilder, VT, was assaulted by police who were called to the scene by a neighbor who mistook him for a burglar when he was entering his home. In 2012, Macadam Mason, a man who suffered from epilepsy, was killed when police tased him as he walked towards police with his hands up, according to witnesses. In both cases, no criminal charges were pursued against any of the officers involved, Jetter said. She then emphasized the need for police to refocus on proper training for diffusing situations rather than allowing them to escalate to a point where violence is justified. In addition, Jetter pointed out the problems that ensue from the militarization of local police departments. “The old adage is true — when you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” Jetter told The Dartmouth in an interview. “We need to return to the idea that police officers are there to restore the peace and protect people, sometimes from themselves.”

The rally later transitioned to a die-in, during which participants laid down in the snow for four and half minutes to protest the four and a half hours that Michael Brown’s body laid in the street in Ferguson. During this period, names of victims of police brutality were read out loud. Six days later, Geisel students organized a die-in at the medical school facilities. The protest was in accordance with a national movement, the National White Coat Die-In, where medical students across the country staged simultaneous, similar events to protest the decisions surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The die-ins were scheduled to coincide with Human Rights Day, Geisel student Sarah Kleinschmidt Med ’17 said. The die-in drew about 70 participants, Geisel student James Coleman Med ’17 said in an email. Faculty also expressed support both prior to and following the event, Kleinschmidt said. Nationally, the die-in used the slogan “White Coats for Black Lives,” which Kleinschmidt said reflected the broader meaning of the medical profession to do no harm.

As the winter term starts, Goldthree and Kleinschmidt both expressed hope that the momentum generated by these protests will be carried forward once more students return to campus, breaking out of the bubble that campus can create. “Questions of justice should matter everywhere,” Goldthree said.