Black Lives Matter // Shut Middletown Down

Wesleyan Students at a "Die In" on the corner of Wash and Main. Photo by James Gibbel '18

Wesleyan Students at a “Die In” on the corner of Wash and Main. Photo by James Gibbel ’18

At 3 PM, a huge number of students, faculty, staff, administrators, and Middletown community members (estimates range from a few to several hundred) gathered in the Exley Lobby ready to march in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Although most folks dissipated at about 4 PM after the stream of protestors made it’s way back to main campus, as of 4:45 PM there are still students marching on the North End of Main Street and police are present. Prior to the march, protestors were reminded that a Black life is taken every 28 hours by law enforcement or state-backed vigilantes; this march was an attempt to disrupt the Middletown economy in analogous fashion to the constant disruption of Black lives. In addition, it was emphasized that this was a peaceful protest.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 5.02.27 PMFrom there, protestors walked from Exley past Olin, chanting things like “Black Lives Matter,” “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” down to College Row where they paused outside of North College and had a moment of silence for 4.5 minutes, representing the 4 1/2 hours that Mike Brown’s body was left in the street in Ferguson. The march continued past the Usdan Center, through the CFA, and past the Center for African American Studies, where protestors walked onto Washington Street—or Route 66, a main CT thoroughfare. At the corner of Washington and Main Street, white allies formed a ring around primarily Students of Color who had a “Die In” for eleven minutes, signifying the eleven times that Eric Garner said, “I can’t breathe.”

Although an action like this comes with the intent to obstruct traffic, it was curious that the police chose to block off the intersection prior to the arrival of the protestors. One could view it as an attempt to curtail traffic disruptions, a desire to diminish injuries, or even a sign of solidarity. Students did receive an email from the Dean of Students at 1:45 PM reminding them that peaceful protests are legal, but obstructing traffic is not, and the Middletown police tweeted:

Overall, I found the march to be incredibly powerful and moving. It was invigorating to see so many of my peers, professors, and fellow Middletown residents march today. Middletown is Ferguson. Ferguson is Middletown.

[Update 7:30 pm] The Middletown Police department wrote a press release in which they said they received a tip about the march this morning and that the “die-in” would occur during rush hour. They then determined that “the best course of action was to shut down the intersection to avoid any accidents, we also advised the Board of Education and EMS to use alternate routes during the march.”

The press release also estimates that approximately 300 students participated in the march, while the Middletown Press estimates “nearly 1,000.” Our own approximation is closer to the latter, possibly around 600-700 people (this includes not just students, but also administrators, faculty, Middletown community members, and other Wesleyan employees).

An excerpt from the release describes the march:

The march was peaceful and respectful. Some students thanked us for keeping them safe during the march. The most anyone did in a negative way was to shake a sign near the officers.

The students cleared the intersection after occupying it for approximately eleven minutes. We then followed the students back to Wesleyan property to ensure their safety. Several minutes later about half of the students started marching back toward Main Street and Washington Street. The students were advised that they could not occupy the intersection again. The students were allowed to march on the sidewalk and to use the crosswalk. We assisted them in the crosswalk. The students were cooperative. There were no injuries reported during the incident and no one was arrested.

[Update 12/9/14, 1 pm] Rebel Empire Productions posted this powerful video of the Middletown Black Lives Matter march:

This post will be updated as more information, stories, and pictures come in. If you have any stories or photos you’d like to share, please email them to staff@wesleying.org.

Additional Reading:

[Middletown Press]Hundreds of Wesleyan Students March, Act out Die-in in Middletown
[Middletown Press] PHOTOS: Wesleyan Students Protest Police Brutality
[
Middletown Police Department] Press Release of “Die-in”

  • Anon

    Wouldn’t the time and efforts have been better spent writing their elected officials asking them to change laws so that bad cops could be brought to justice? This was silly at best, and annoying to people who otherwise might have been allies at worst.

    • Proud Protestor

      I don’t think the cathartic process of peaceful protest is silly–its a strong, effective message to politicians and communities at large about how people feel and its more effective than letter writing in the ways that it demands an immediate response from people in power. I don’t know about you but most of my letters to my reps go unanswered (and at least from my perspective-unnoticed). This and other acts of protest certainly do not. That being said, I would hope that true allies wouldn’t drop an issue because they disagree with this particular expression of our constitutional rights but if they do they were likely not real allies anyway, right?

      • Anon

        I have to disagree. If you want to enact change, you need to be taken seriously by elected officials. A thousand people writing one, clearly stated letter each at least is a voice. A thousand people blocking traffic is written off as silliness.

        Your letters may go unanswered, but they are read by a staffer whose job it is to keep an eye on what constituents are saying, and they are tallied.

        Cathartic moments are not instrumental, and in this case, it may even have hurt the cause. Political activation is about subsidizing the costs of getting involved. All you did was make people’s lives harder. Some woman who took time off from work to bring her kid to the dentist most likely did not come to support your cause when you made her late.

        Just ponder, that’s all I ask.

        • E

          You’re mad at inconvenience, what about you try to ponder what it would feel like and how much harder YOUR life would be if your family members were being killed because of the color of their skin. We made people’s lives harder, so did the cops who get away with murder. How much harder do you think Mike Brown’s family has it now? Eric Gardner’s family? Being late for something or being stuck in traffic is incomparable to people losing their lives.

          • Anon

            So now I am conversing with E and Proud Protestor.

            a) If you wanted to have an impact, I still argue your time would have been better spent politely and articulately contacting your respective governors.
            b) I wasn’t mad! I was at work. But if you think for one second that your lying in the street caused anyone to do anything at best but laugh at you and at worst to resent your little escapade, I humbly disagree.
            c) There is a way to have an impact on the political world. Blocking traffic is not high on the list.

        • Proud Protestor

          If being late to one dentist appointment made her think about the fact that Eric Garner will never be able to take his kids or his grandkids to the dentist again as the result of police brutality then I think that’s a success. A letter on some staffers desk that gets added to some tally somewhere doesn’t get a conversation started. I’m sure if the leaders of the Civil Rights movement discouraged protest and instead encouraged everyone to write letters, we’d all still be writing letters to our politicians trying to get segregation repealed. At least this woman, who I guess in your example would likely go home and complain about having to be late because of this protest, will actually go and talk to someone about it and there’s a possibility for dialogue–whether she is in agreement with the motives for the protest or not. And I would challenge that catharsis and emotional release is highly instrumental both for the folks involved and for those at home who can take some solace in the fact that their sentiments resonate with others around the country. If it was the case that these protests are hurting the cause, then their spreading and picking up momentum would be a real mystery. There’s no reason we can’t both privately pressure our politicians AND express ourselves on a more public grassroots level.

  • calling out

    Yo MPD releaseis full of shit bc ppl definitely did manage to breifly take the intersection a second time on the second splinter march

  • Annoyed

    It was a great cause, but who is surprised that the Activist Times inflated the estimate? Middletown PD estimated 150 people. Your own reporter estimated 500. Anyone with any capacity to count people knows 1/3 of the entire school wasn’t there. Just because one Middletown woman reported her guess in the newspaper doesn’t make it nearly accurate.

  • ferguson is everywhere