As in other cities across the country, a crowd gathered at the Capitol in Little Rock tonight in response to yesterday evening’s news that the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri had decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown after a scuffle in August.
It was cold and the mood was sad and strange. Was it a protest? Not quite. A vigil? Perhaps, but the immediate impetus was not so much Brown’s death as it was the American criminal justice system’s response to that loss of life, or the lack of a response.
Really, it was just a raw, muffled expression of frustration and sorrow at the fact of living in a culture in which individuals’ worth still seems so often predicated on race.
What was clear was the emotional potency of this issue in drawing out nearly 100 people on a cold Tuesday evening with no prior notice. The organizer, UCA student Greer Williams, said there was no organization or institution behind the event other than herself. She created the Facebook event at 11:30 a.m. this morning when she saw no other plans surface online for an action in Central Arkansas.
The event led with an invocation. “Please remind us that our town could be the next Ferguson,” prayed a woman. “Give us the courage and strength to look hard at our own community situation in order to identify the underlying issues and tensions that could, given the right spark, erupt in violence and chaos. Give us the grace and wisdom to work together to try and find solutions, and then to take actions. … Help us to see things from the perspective of others.”
The crowd then observed 4 1/2 minutes of silence, as requested by Brown’s family — to symbolize the 4 1/2 hours that the 18-year-old’s body lay in the streets before being recovered. (If you haven’t read the wrenching, five-sentence statement issued by the family after the decision, you should.)
The most powerful statement of the rally was delivered by Furonda Brasfield, a third-year law student at Bowen and president of the school’s Black Law Students Association who said that her own nephew was shot and killed by the police under questionable circumstances.
“He was 18 years old, and he was taken from us,” she said. “That’s why we’re here. We’re here because we want a change. In the past couple of days, we knew that this was coming. All of our friends, all of my family we kind of expected it but we had hope that we would have justice. One time, we would have justice. But it didn’t happen.”
“We are here at the Capitol, but this needs to not be the last time that we are here,” she continued. “Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. White lives matter. And the lives of low-income citizens matter as well. We need to be here, we need to stand together when these problems are affecting our immigrant sisters and brothers, when they’re affecting our sisters and brothers who are going to be possibly losing health care. We need to be here.”