North Texas Daily

Ferguson hits home for student organizations

Ferguson hits home for student organizations

Ferguson hits home for student organizations
August 26
00:33 2014

Matt Wood / Senior Staff Writer

When Claudia Hullett started putting together the pieces about the political and racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, she was stunned.

“My heart stopped,” she said. “I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me.”

While digging through the social media coverage, a live video stream of Ferguson brought her to tears as she saw parallels to racial discrimination of the 1960s. And that connection terrified her.

This was on August 9.

This was when Hullett first found out that unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, igniting a powder keg that raised questions of police brutality, racial profiling and discrimination.

Theater senior Hullett is UNT’s Black Student Union president, and she said her reaction resonated with the union and its affiliated organizations. Hullett reached out to SGA president Troy Elliott and UNT’s NAACP president Brittany Burnam to coordinate a response to the incident.

In circumstances like this, education is the primary focus for BSU. By increasing awareness of the issues, Hullett hopes it can open discussion between students and generate enough attention that people will take action.

“People are just in the dark,” Hullett said. “It saddens me that events as traumatic as Michael Brown’s death are what it takes to make people aware.”

Likewise, Burnam said that the NAACP’s first step is to reach out to communities and show how discrimination affects every individual’s life.

Though events like Michael Brown being shot and killed serve as catalysts for discussion about police using excessive force, Burnam said that in order to make lasting change, the issue must extend past a single occurrence.

“The fight isn’t over,” she said. “It’s important for people to know that tragedies like the one in Ferguson happen every day. This is closer to home than we all may think.”

Burnam said lack of political involvement is at the root of these issues, and mentioned that less than 7 percent of Denton residents voted during the city’s last midterm election.

“We are all for encouraging voter’s empowerment and making sure their voice is heard,” she said. “Their vote counts, and we will stick with the fight until our work is done.”

Moving Forward

In response to the controversy in Ferguson, vice president of BSU Cherita Cunningham set her mind to action. BSU and its affiliated organizations have come together similarly for issues such as the Trayvon Martin shooting on Feb. 26, 2012. The first step, she said, is finding out what needs to be done.

“My first reaction was, ‘what can we do to support the efforts for justice and change?’” Cunningham said. “It is time for us to come together once again and push further than we have in the past in order for these injustices to cease.”

To raise awareness about both discrimination and police brutality, the BSU and NAACP have organized a justice rally and vigil for 6 p.m. Sept. 5 in the library mall.

Poets and singers will perform various pieces about injustice and discrimination throughout the evening. There will also be speakers and voter registration booths set up to motivate students to vote and become politically involved.

The vigil will not only be for Michael Brown, but for any person who has lost his or her life due to police brutality.

In the near future, the BSU and NAACP also plan to have an open forum to allow people to pose questions to a panel of UNT organization leaders and Denton police.

“The main goal with the forum is to remove the barriers,” Hullett said. “We want to remove that apprehension that students may have to ask questions.”

Social Justice Media

A driving force throughout this controversy has been the delineation of events through social media — namely Twitter.

On August 10, #Ferguson erupted as the enduring hashtag for the discussion of Michael Brown and almost 9 million tweets carry the tag, according to Topsy Twitter analytics.

However, the speed and ease with which information spreads over social media cuts both ways. Hullett said misinformation about Ferguson is widespread, and that it can be damaging to the movement if the facts become clouded by mistruths.

“It’s been a huge help, but in some ways a hindrance,” she said. “A lot of the coverage when everything was unfolding was via social media. That’s how I first got word of what was happening.”

Beyond just breaking the news, social media has also served as a platform for discussion across all demographics. One campaign, “Hands up, Don’t shoot,” received about 250,000 tweets. The movement features pictures of groups of protestors with their hands up to signal their lack of resistance and to deter the use of force.

This initiative has been a positive one, Hullett said, and its unifying effect has united groups from across the country to stand together.

Hullett encourages any student or member of the Denton community to attend BSU and NAACP events, as well as any related ones.

“Start a conversation amongst yourself, amongst your peers,” she said. “Take that step within yourself to be an activist. Come together and take action as a university.”

Featured Image: National Guard troops are deployed in Feguson, Missouri. Photo courtesy of CNN’s Facebook.

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