Few were surprised by the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson, Mo., to not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black youth.
But many of the people who gathered at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Seattle’s Central District on Nov. 25 were fed up with the pattern of violence spreading across the country, with officers escaping trial for killing unarmed black people.
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” Ed Mayer said into a megaphone from a raised platform at the church. He spoke to a crowd that had congregated for the rally. “It’s so nice to see everyone, but we’ve got to stop meeting like this when another mother has to bury her son; we’ve got to stop meeting like this when the police continue to brutalize our community and kill our young.”
Even though this rally was about Brown’s death and the grand jury decision, attendees highlighted the many other lives lost across the country in similar circumstances, including in Seattle. Many protesters carried signs bearing the names of people who were killed by Seattle police officers: Michael Ealy, Robert Lee Thomas Sr. and Joshua Morgan and more.
And several protesters talked about efforts in Seattle to reform the local criminal justice system and law enforcement. The Seattle Police Department has been under court-ordered reforms since 2012, following a Department of Justice investigation that found officers had a pattern and practice of excessive force.
Brown’s death, coupled with a grand jury’s decision to not indict Wilson, were two potent examples to those gathered that racism persists in Seattle.
“I think the result was not surprising, but just illuminated the systems that are in place and how they continue to work for white people and not for people of color,” said Ariel Hart, 23, who works with the group Ending the Prison Industrial Complex.
The group marched from Mount Calvary Baptist Church toward the federal courthouse at 700 Stewart St. As the crowd moved through the Central District, many new people joined the throng of hundreds.
Almost immediately, at 23rd and Union, a long line of students from Garfield High School met up with the crowd and marched, chanting “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
Jesse Hagopian, a history teacher and advisor for Garfield’s Black Student Union, told the crowd that the students were all watching events in Ferguson closely. In July 2013, Garfield students had been shocked over the events following another volatile case, when George Zimm-
erman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin — who was also unarmed. Students are no longer surprised: “The students are Garfield expected this verdict,” Hagopian said. “They know that this is not shocking, that this is the practice of this racist country.”
The students energized the protest, which was organized by an older generation affiliated with the Seattle King County NAACP and United Black Clergy. At Broadway and Pike, with a crowd of mostly students leading the front of the march, everyone got down on their knees with hands in the air, emulating how witnesses say Brown was shot in Ferguson. They chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot.”