By Joe Vitale
After a summer marked by incidents of police brutality that ignited protests and sparked a national conversation about policing in America, students, faculty and staff gathered on McGinley Center Lawn on Tuesday to honor and remember those who have lost their lives in instances of police brutality.
The candlelight vigil, attended by more than 100 community members, comprised various interfaith groups, including the Muslim Student Association, Fordham University South Asian Entity, Satin Dolls, Campus Ministry and the African and African American Studies Department.
Organizers, in a statement before the vigil, said the purpose of the gathering was to honor and remember each life lost to policy brutality, and to stand in solidarity with the communities impacted by such injustices.
A focus on racial injustice underscored many of the prayers and conversations throughout the vigil, with calls for solidarity, peace and justice reverberating throughout the words delivered by speakers and prayer leaders.
Rahitul Bhuiyan, FRCH ’15, of the Muslim Student Association, read an Islamic prayer from the Quran and translated the verses into English.
“Justice is a vital part of Islam,” Bhuiyan explained after reading a verse in Arabic. “If anyone kills a person, it is like killing all humanity. If anyone saves a person, it is like saving humanity.”
Rev. Mark Chapman, a professor in the African and African American Studies Department who authored Christianity on Trial: African American Religious Thought Before and After Black Power, spoke explicitly about coming together and remembering victims of police brutality whose names, stories and families are often left behind by the news cycle. Chapman also emphasized the necessity of solidarity, where our morals concern not just similar people, but people from all walks of life.
“If it is only gay and lesbians who protest the victimization of homosexuals, if it is only women who are out protesting the rape of innocent victims, if it is only people of color there to protest police brutality,” Chapman said, “then our moral concern is limited to people who look and act like ourselves.”
Following the prayers, students were invited to light their candles while the names of police brutality victims were called aloud and followed by a moment of silence.
One student recognized Michael Brown, who was shot by a police officer this summer in Ferguson, Missouri. Another student recalled Eric Garner, who also died this summer while being arrested on a sidewalk in Staten Island. A third student recalled Sean Bell, who, in 2006, was gunned down by police officers outside of a nightclub in Queens. Another mentioned Amadou Diallo, who was gunned down by plain-clothed N.Y.P.D. officers outside of his apartment in 2009.
One of the organizers, Kelsey Vizzard, FRCH ’15, a Social Justice leader at the Dorothy Day Center for Social Justice Teaching, said that she was pleased to see that students on their way in and out of the McGinley Center seemed to stumble upon the vigil and join the other students there without hesitation.
As for Fordham’s role in becoming a voice on issues of racial injustice, Vizzard expressed confidence in Fordham’s ability to be an effective and powerful voice on the subject. “In regards to solutions, Fordham students are invited to be a part of the ongoing conversation,” she said.
“This is something we need to keep on our minds,” said Many Caballero, PCS ’16, who said he felt moved by the vigil. “I love that it had a variety of religious groups, not just people from the Jesuit faith.”
Students were appreciative of the solemn and respectful nature of the vigil.
“The whole thing was very touching and very inspiring,” said Andrew Abbensett, FCLC ’15. “It’s kind of scary to know there are many people who think [police brutality] is okay,”
“Still,” he added, “it’s inspiring to see the Fordham community coming together to stand for people who suffer these kinds of injustices everyday in New York.”
To close the ceremony, Jennifer Delgado, FCRH ’16, sang “We Who Believe in Freedom,” while attendees held onto their lit candles.
“Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons / Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons,” Delgago sung.
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest,” the students sung in unison, “we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
Joseph Vitale is the Managing Editor for The Fordham Ram.