Oxford students joined international voices supporting protesters in Ferguson, Missouri today with a large demonstration in the city centre.
The fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, by white police officer Darren Wilson has sparked outrage against racism and police brutality across the United States.
After this week’s grand jury decision not to indict Wilson, massive demonstrations have been held around the world in support of on-going protests in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. On Wednesday, hundreds gathered outside the American embassy in London to commemorate Michael Brown and protest police brutality against ethnic minorities in the US and UK.
Today’s Ferguson demonstration organised by Oxford students is one of the largest in the UK to date.
Approximately 250 students and locals marched down Cornmarket and Broad Street chanting slogans associated with the protest movement, including “Black lives matter” and “Hands up, don’t shoot!”. A small police escort looked on as the crowd moved through the city.
The demonstration concluded outside the Radcliffe Camera with speeches, poems, a list of names of people of colour killed by police in the US and UK in recent years, and 4.5 minutes of silence representing the 4.5 hours Michael Brown’s body lay in the street after he was shot.
The protest was organised by American Oxford students Josh Aiken and Nicole Nfonoyim de Hara, who both addressed the crowd before and after the march.
Aiken, who is from St. Louis, spoke to Cherwell outside the Rad Cam in the aftermath of the demonstration. He was extremely happy with the significant turn-out, he said.
“I think it’s always amazing to see people come out to show solidarity,” Aiken commented. “I think it’s really easy, if something doesn’t feel like it directly impacts you, to say ‘Okay, I see that on the news, I know that it’s happening, but this isn’t related to me at all’.”
“From the very beginning, we tried to make this demonstration not just about what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri, but the fact that it’s related to so many struggles around the world for communities that are marginalised. Wherever people are from, seeing so many people come out in the context of Oxford is unbelievable.”
“This is not the first place people I know in St. Louis and Ferguson would think of where people were showing solidarity with them,” Aiken continued.
“But there are people in the most elite academic institution in the world who see this injustice for what it is. For my friends and family to feel they’re not alone on this is, I think, all we can ask.”
Though the majority of speakers were American students, several linked the message of the demonstration to police brutality in the UK, including the 2011 killing of Mark Duggan.
Brian Kwoba, a history student at Pembroke, addressed the crowd about the pervasiveness of racial oppression in the United States, as well as the importance of recognising the struggles of black women.
“I was really moved and pleasantly surprised by the tons and tons of people who came,” Kwoba told Cherwell. “It made me a feel a lot better coming back to Oxford having been in the US doing research.”
“Oxford is the intellectual seat of British power, not only here but in the world,” Kwoba said. “As such, we have a responsibility to raise our voices here, because we have the privilege to do it and we have so many monuments, like the Cecil Rhodes House, that continue to symbolise the violence of the British government.”
The protest, which was peaceful and well-organised, was generally well-received by the Oxford community. Many students had condemned the Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson earlier this week. Nada, a St Antony’s student, expressed surprise that so many people had shown up.
“It says a lot about students and breaks the stereotype of Oxford students being stuck in their own bubbles,” she said.
Others stressed the significance of the day’s demonstration to inspiring future action. “It’s amazing to have so many people standing in solidarity,” commented Miriam, another St Antony’s student.
“This case shows the complex ways racism persists at all levels in America. One protest isn’t going to change that, so we need to keep up the pressure, especially as this case is going to be going on for a while.”