Candlelight vigil held to mourn deaths of victims of police violence

By Stefan Geller

(Daily Collegian Archives)
(Daily Collegian Archives)

Around 200 people of different races, ethnicities and age groups came out to the University of Massachusetts at 6:30 p.m. Monday night to mourn the deaths of Tyre King, Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott and all other lives lost to police brutality in the United States.

“It was beautiful, actually, to see so many people from so many different backgrounds coming in to commemorate on an issue surrounding black lives,” said President of Graduate Students of Color Association Ashley Carpenter.

The vigil was organized by the GSCA with help from the Black Student Union (BSU), and featured six prepared speakers, as well as several speeches from members of the crowd.

The prepared speakers were Dr. Amilcar Shabazz, a professor in the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, Vira Douangmany-Cage, a member of the Amherst School Committee and an UMass alumna, a poet, a pastor, and two members of the GSCA.

“Tonight we light candles to remember all of the brothers and sisters that we have lost unjustly,” said Nigel Golden, a member of GSCA and one of the speakers at the event.

Several signs were held up among the mourners, some reading, “Stop turning us into a hashtag,” “We stand with Charlotte” and “Hands up don’t shoot!”

“As we stand here in peaceful solidarity tonight, we want to ensure the safety and welfare of all,” Carpenter said. “Unfortunately we can no longer ignore what is happening in this country as we literally fear dying in the streets.”

“I think we need some different narratives out there, and I think that one of those narratives is that a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Shabazz said.

Shabazz also encouraged attendees to “continue to be vigilant, continue to do what you can in your spaces to make things better, continue to organize, continue to agitate, continue to educate. There’s really no more important work that we can do than that.”

As mourners raised their candles in honor of the lost lives, tensions rose within the crowd after a white photographer took a black woman’s photograph without asking her permission. From there, the white mourners in the crowd were asked to leave by a few of the black mourners, even though the GSCA publicized the event as open to everyone.

“I’m sorry that that happened, because that was not the undertone that we were going in with, it was built under solidarity and being peaceful,” Carpenter said. “There was a shift in that there could have been a dialogue and space to give that photographer more autonomy and to give that woman autonomy as well to say something about that, where she felt like her body wouldn’t be disrespected.”

Gaelle Rigaud, secretary of the BSU, and a junior at UMass studying English and Afro-American Studies said, “Those who spoke up have every right to ask for black space, I have nothing wrong with them doing that, but at the end of the day the event was for everyone.”

“These are times in which there are a lot of emotions, there are a lot of feelings that people have, and they have to be understood as individual and not as a group,” Shabazz said. “It is really about can we, with all these different mix of feelings that we’re having right now, nonetheless try to find a place of unity, and a place of solidarity to process this terrible, terrible set of injustices that continue to go on.”

Stefan Gellar can be reached at [email protected].