On the afternoon of Dec. 1, over 100 people organized by the Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation group of the University of Pennsylvania began a protest in front of City Hall. Their mission was to protest the Nov. 22 grand jury decision to not indict now-retired 28-year-old St. Louis Police Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old-Ferguson, Missouri, resident Michael Brown.
The protesters, attempting to address the perceived injustice in the grand jury decision, had a sit-in along the streets from City Hall to 33rd and Market streets, lying down to stop traffic at 34th and Walnut streets and 33rd and Market streets for four minutes in order to symbolize the four hours Brown’s body lay on the street on the day of the shooting. They held up banners, one of which said, “No Justice No Peace.” They halted at 34th and Walnut Streets.
Michael Brown’s shooting has sparked protests all around the country challenging similar police shootings of African-American citizens. People taking sides with both Brown and Wilson have gained international attention. Similar protests were especially intense in the small town of Ferguson, where the shooting occurred. Protesters were accused of looting and property damage and the police were accused of excessive force, using tear gas and rubber bullets. After the grand jury made the decision not to indict Wilson on any charges, protests escalated with accusation of people setting local properties and police cars on fire. Protests spread to almost every major city in the country, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” blowing up on social media.
Mani, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the organizers of the protest, commented on the reasoning behind it. “Today we decided to do it because it was a national walkout,” he said. He said that this was in order to make “Penn stand still” (and along with it, Drexel, when they laid down at 33rd and Market streets).
One student, Jose Romero, a senior anthropology major from UPenn, said he had walked into the protest after watching it pass by 38th Street, being inspired by a “collective sense of dissatisfaction with feeling like we belong on the sidewalk when these are our streets.”
The police made a statement saying that no incidents were reported and that their presence was to simply safeguard the protestors as they made their way across the city.
SOUL, which started in 2012, had been holding visual protests on UPenn’s campus called “Ferguson Fridays” in October, where members would depicts incidences of unjust killings of African-Americans with cardboard cutouts of bodies. Papers showed information about the killings. There were also people in costume bearing years associated with the poor treatment of African-Americans. Additionally the group had lay-downs on red tarps, to portray people lying in their own blood.
SOUL’s mission, as stated on its Facebook page is, “To create a more conscious and active community at UPenn and in Philadelphia.”
At 12 p.m. Dec. 2 Penn students are planning their own protest in front of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.