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Ferguson protests spark on-campus dialogue

By Hillary AlexandreSPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE

A protest was held at 1:00 a.m. at Hofstra University after the grand jury ruled in the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown on Monday, Nov. 24. When St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCollough announced that Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for any crimes related to Brown’s death, over 100  Hofstra students began to protest the decision. The protest march started in front of the Student Center and continued out into the parking lots of the residence halls.

Eddie E. Severino, a senior studying political science, woke up to loud chants outside his dorm room window in Estabrook Hall coming from the crowd of students that was a “pretty racially mixed group.”

Jesse Saunders/The Chronicle

Throughout the day after the ruling, Hofstra students took to social media to voice their outrage, disappointment and shock. On Nov. 25 at 5:00 p.m., the Dean of Students Office held a discussion on the grand jury’s decision outside of their office.

“I couldn’t stay quiet and I knew there were others on campus that felt the same,” said Tyler Barragan, a sophomore studying computer science, who started the protest on campus the night of the ruling by getting the word out via Facebook and Yik Yak. “I was touched by the turn-out. A lot of people came and screamed their hearts out,” he continued.

Barragan has also created the Facebook page, Hofstra Students for Justice, where conversations and information regarding the Ferguson case are shared, such as the second protest that was held on campus yesterday.

The Dean of Students hallway walls were lined with chairs, filled with a group of racially diverse students ready to voice their opinion and have a proactive conversation about the ruling in the case of Michael Brown’s death. The voices heard provided testimonials of grief and disappointment, facts and the lack thereof that caused frustration and confusion, along with suggestions of positive action.

“I woke up crying because when I have a child, what am I supposed to teach them about our system?… It’s 2014 and we’re still fighting,” said Jahmila Smith, a junior psychology major.

One student voiced her frustration about the process that took place prior to the ruling. “I wasn’t expecting an indictment, but I didn’t expect the prosecutor to take the role of a defense attorney,” said Laisa Pertet, a second year law student at Hofstra University Maurice A. Dean School of Law and co-attorney general for the Black Law Students Association at Hofstra.

“The prosecutor’s job is to prosecute the defendant, his job is to seek out an indictment… You only have to prove probable cause,” explained Pertet. A grand jury process involves examining the validity of an accusation before trial, whereas a trial is a formal examination of evidence before a judge in order to decide guilt in a case of criminal or civil proceedings. “It was absolutely unethical for all of the evidence to come through at a grand jury proceeding… His job was to put Wilson away and he deviated outside the realm of his job,” continued Pertet.

To get a majority vote, only nine votes were needed for the Ferguson District Attorney to prosecute the police officer. In the grand jury that decided the case of Michael Brown’s death, there were nine white jurors and three African American jurors. Pertet stated that she will try to get in contact with the National Bar Association, which announced that they will be investigating the case.

The discussion held by the Dean of Students Office ended on a positive note with suggestions of action such as weekly meetings on campus to discuss race relations, getting speakers to come to Hofstra and professors bringing their classes to these discussions, as well as suggestions of action on an individual level like coming out of your comfort zone to befriend those that are different from a student’s usual group of friends.

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