On December 3, when a grand jury did not indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo for causing the death of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner, people in cities across the United States, and later, around the world, took to the streets to protest. Pantaleo’s non-indictment dominated social media, following close on the heels of the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teen in Ferguson, Missouri. Twitter hashtags #BlackLivesMatter, #HandsUpDontShoot, and #ICantBreathe (Eric Garner’s final words) are trending nationwide. Over the weekend, many Adventists joined the many marchers who demonstrated against police brutality and racial injustice.
On Friday, December 5, students at Oakwood University demonstrated in Huntsville, Alabama. Oakwood University officials issued the following statement on the university website:
We are deeply saddened by the recent losses of life that raise serious questions about justice and human rights. This is a deeply emotional time and these events have triggered a myriad of feelings with our students, faculty, and staff.
We understand that some of our Oakwood students along with other students have been involved in the organizing of a demonstration (#ShutItDownHSV) for December 5, at 4:30 p.m. We support the rights of our students to peacefully protest. However, we are deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of our students and anyone else who has planned to participate. We do not support the breaking of traffic laws and ask every Oakwood student, “If you choose to participate, to do so peacefully and lawfully, in accordance with the laws of the city of Huntsville.
We also invite students who wish to express themselves, but do not wish to march to join us on Sunday, December 7, at 5:00 p.m. in Moran Hall to help assemble an action plan for how Oakwood students can support the mission of creating “One Huntsville.”
Later that evening, after 200-300 students marched through the streets of Huntsville amid light rain with signs and placards, and chanting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” OU president Dr. Leslie Pollard issued a statement on the university website as well. He said,
Tonight I stood among our students as they made their voices heard. I marched with them. I felt their unrest. I could sense that they wanted change and equality. As I looked at their faces, I couldn’t help but think how this experience would change them forever. Being able to protest for change is a beautiful thing. And we are proud of how they conducted themselves in the midst of their pain and anger.
We want to thank Oakwood University Police Department and Huntsville Police Department for their service tonight as our students peacefully made their way down the streets of Huntsville.
Our forward movement doesn’t stop here. We invite students who wish to express themselves regarding the recent issues to join us on Sunday, December 7, at 5:00 p.m. in Moran Hall to help assemble an action plan for how Oakwood students can support the mission of creating “One Huntsville.”
Dr. Pollard posted pictures on Twitter of his five-month-old granddaughter at the demonstration, and of students staging a “Die In,” laying on the ground in the middle of University Drive as if dead.
At the Huntsville OU Student demonstration was the littlest protester–my 5 month-old granddaughter. PTL pic.twitter.com/gGZQSvwT4Y
— Leslie Pollard (@LesPollard) December 6, 2014
Black Lives Matter–at the Oakwood demonstration for justice in Huntsville! pic.twitter.com/Pfw3On6qZB
— Leslie Pollard (@LesPollard) December 5, 2014
Matt Kroschel of WHNT News 19 tweeted a photo of Oakwood students in a large circle praying before the start of their demonstration.
— Matt Kroschel (@Matt_Kroschel) December 5, 2014
According to various reports, demonstrations were peaceful, and despite a large police presence, no arrests were made.
In Michigan on Saturday, hundreds of students at Andrews University marched two miles from campus to the Berrien Springs Police Department, chanting and singing “We are soldiers/In the army/We have to fight/Although we have to die”. When they arrived at the police station, they observed silence for a period signifying the time Michael Brown lay dead in the street after being shot to death.
Speaking to WSBT 22, a local CBS affiliate, Andrews University associate chaplain Michael Polite said, “What’s going on in these major cities, yea, it’s affecting us too even though we’re attending school in a rural area.”
— Ciao Bella (@_broshemalawian) December 7, 2014
According to the WSBT report, Andrews students prayed and thanked police officers, noting that many police officers were being tarnished by the brutality of a minority of officers.
In an invitation to the protest march, Chaplain Polite used the hashtag #BreakTheWalls and recommended students dress in all black. Black clothing has been characteristic of #BlackOut events all throughout the United States.
Also on Saturday, Adventists from the Allegheny West Conference met in cold weather at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio for a day of prayer led by Pastor John T. Boston II of the Central Seventh-day Adventist Church and Allegheny West pastors from Columbus. Evangelist/Pastor Marquis Johns of the Metropolitan Adventist Church in Hyattsville, Maryland was a guest speaker at the event.
— Allegheny West (@AWConf) December 6, 2014
Organizers of the prayer event also used Twitter to organize, and used the hashtag #ColumbusWeStand. In communication with Spectrum, Pastor Boston said,
As spiritual leaders, we gathered to meet anger with calm and protest with prayer. It is our desire to begin the process of reconciliation and trust. This begins with prayer.
The Columbus Dispatch wrote that approximately 100 demonstrators joined the event. According to the article, the gathering dispersed after police arrived with lights flashing and threatened to cite the demonstrators for blocking bus lanes and parking improperly. However, no citations were issued, according to the story.
Title image: From left to right–Pastor John Boston of the Central Adventist Church, Pastor Jason Ridley of the Hilltop Adventist Church, and Dr. Donald Burden of the Ephesus Adventist Church at the #ColumbusWeStand demonstration. Photo Courtesy Michael Diaz / Central Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Jared Wright is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.