Friday, October 10, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Thirty-six women, 19 men and three children sat in silence on the steps of City Hall for almost an hour Monday evening holding in front of them portraits of Michael Brown photocopied in color on plain white paper.
Brown, 18, of Ferguson, Missouri, who a police officer shot dead two weeks ago, was buried earlier in the day. The black youth was unarmed and a preliminary autopsy showed that the white police officer shot him six times, including two bullets to the head.
Kani Brown (no relation), who lives across the street from City Hall, was on his way to buy bedsheets when he passed by the vigil. Given the national furor over the killing and the military-style police response to the ensuing protests, Brown said he was pleased by the peacefulness of the Northampton event. “A good way to call attention to everything is silence,” he said. “Sometimes you forget the actual victim.”
The vigil began at 6:30 and about 7:15 proceeded to Pulaski Park where 35 people stood in a circle holding candles in paper cups.
Among them was John Kydd, 45, of Amherst, who said in an interview that he had experienced what he termed police brutality in Hadley two years ago. Police chased him, he said, and after he was lying on the ground in a “cross position” a police officer used a knee to grind his face into the ground. “It’s almost as if they try to antagonize you to strike back to justify their inappropriate means,” said Kydd, who is black.
He heard about Monday’s rally through Facebook and came because he wanted to remember Brown and to help “get the message out that something has to be done” about how police around the country treat people of color.
Amy Bookbinder of Northampton, who helped organize the event, said the idea came out of the call by people in Ferguson to stage small remembrances around the country. She printed 100 photographs of Brown based on the size of the response she got to a Facebook events page she posted Sunday night.
Bookbinder said the silent protest came out of a desire to remember Brown apart from the tumult in the aftermath of his death. “We know a lot of people are angry and outraged but this is not that,” said Bookbinder. “This is the time to remember the life of a human being.”
Frances Crowe, 95, a longtime Northampton peace activist, said the event was “very moving … I’m glad we came together.”
Ellen Graves of West Springfield heard about the vigil at a meeting of anti-foreclosure activists earlier in the day. She was planning to attend a Climate Action meeting at the Unitarian Society next to City Hall. “I rushed up early so I could stand here for a few minutes,” she said.
Graves, who is the office manager and an anti-violence organizer for the Springfield-based group Arise for Social Justice, said the events in Ferguson during the last two weeks have brought national attention to a widespread problem. “I know that a lot of young men of color are being shot by the police, it happens in this country all the time,” she said.
A grand jury in Missouri is deliberating whether to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown.
Shanti Gaia said he was moved as he walked past the vigil eating a slice of pizza topped with mushrooms and broccoli. “I like that it’s just a quiet, poignant, visual display,” he said.
Eric Goldscheider can be reached at email@example.com.