The Pitt News

Oakland protestors condemn violence in Ferguson

By Sabrina Romano / Staff Writer

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National issues resonated on campus as students and community members participated in a peaceful march to promote awareness of police brutality.

The protest came as a response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and incidents in Gaza, but functioned to raise awareness of police brutality, according to flyers distributed prior to the rally. It began at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and after approximately 40 minutes of protesting in place, the roughly 40 protesters marched from the corner of Forbes Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard to the Cathedral lawn, into the Cathedral and then up Forbes Avenue. The protest ended by 9:30 p.m. at the same location it began.

Word of the protest spread by mouth, fliers and the Internet, according to attendees, and attracted a variety of Pittsburgh natives and students. One protester John Robins said he heard people talking about the event two weeks ago. 

“The idea behind the march isn’t just to see justice for Mike Brown but to see a world where the police as an institution don’t exist,” Robins said. 

Pitt police officers, who declined to be named, said they monitored the protest while it occurred and said they would not get involved unless someone was hurt.

Ken Service, the University’s vice chancellor of communications, spoke about Pitt police’s preparations earlier in the day.

“The University police are aware and will take whatever steps they deem necessary,” Service said. “They don’t typically disclose their preparations ahead of time. But they are aware.”

Service also spoke about the responsibilities of the Pitt police.

“I don’t think there is anything to fear,” Service said. “[Pitt police] do an admirable job, so I don’t believe there is any cause for concern.”

For protester Elizabeth Ogunsanya, the cause behind the protest was enough reason to come out. “Why wouldn’t I be protesting? If this is peaceful and legal and if something needs to be changed, why would I not be here?” Ogunsanya, a senior anthropology and biology major, said.

For Ogunsanya, the visibility of the protest could highlight the events in Ferguson and Gaza, as well as bring awareness to police brutality. 

“School just started up. There are a lot of students who probably haven’t seen the news,” Ogunsanya said.

Dr. Harvey Holtz, a professor emeritus of sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, saw the protest information online. 

“There is a new Jim Crow that exists in the U.S.,” Holtz said. “It exists in one, in the mass incarceration of African-Americans, especially young males. Things have not changed very much throughout the history of the U.S. Only the form of oppression has changed.”

Alaa Mohamed, a junior studying sociology, said she heard about the protest from her professor. 

“Even if it is just staying silent, something will change eventually. So much stuff happened in Ferguson and Gaza last summer and I’ll do what little I can do to try and promote awareness,” Mohamed said. 

Organizers have been handing out and posting fliers promoting the demonstration around campus for the past few weeks.

The flier reads, “Stand with the Ferguson rebellion!” and, “The militarization of the police is not the problem, the police themselves as an institution are the problem.”

Mohamed said she disagrees with the message on the flier, which promoted the destruction of police as an institution. 

“If you think about it, the police were in our shoes at one point. It starts with education,” Mohamed said.

Mohamed said it was important for college campuses to be mindful of police brutality. “If we’re not aware now, when are we going to be aware?” she said.

The fliers posted around Oakland drew Ava Negri to the protest. 

“I hope [the protest] spreads awareness and that people can stand up for what they believe in. Students should speak out,” Negri, a junior education major, said. “We have the power to express ourselves.”

But she said she didn’t completely agree with the statement on the flyer regarding destroying the police. 

“Personally, I thought the statement was a bit aggressive, but our police force is militant and Ferguson shows that,” Negri said. “They are there to serve and protect, not to infringe on First Amendment rights.”

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Oakland protestors condemn violence in Ferguson