Students gathered on the Duke Chapel steps Wednesday night for a candlelight vigil in response to a grand jury's decision to not indict the New York police officer responsible for the death of Eric Garner this summer.
At the vigil, which nearly 100 people attended, students sang, recited poetry and expressed their frustrations at the verdict and various acts of racism they had witnessed both on and off campus. The vigil concluded with students holding hands in solidarity and singing Civil Rights Movement song “We Shall Overcome.”
“We will not apologize for being angry,” the students chanted. “We will not apologize for being hurt.”
Several students conveyed their frustrations over displays of racism and indifference at Duke—particularly the denial among some students that racial inequality still exists. One student shared the story of a professor applauding a young woman, who had admitted to being racist, for her “honesty.” The woman had attempted to justify herself by claiming that she had grown up in a racist environment, he said.
Other attendees vocalized outrage over the verdict. One black student said she fears that her younger brother would be targeted by police. Another expressed his frustration at hearing blacks justify the actions of the police officers in both the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases through claims that both victims were “misbehaving.”
A video recording of the killing shows Garner gasping “I can’t breathe” numerous times while being held in a chokehold by the police officer—a phrase students also chanted at the vigil.
The event was hosted by a wide range of student organizations, including the Black Students Association, the Duke chapter of the NAACP, Spoken Word and multiple greek organizations.
“We gathered here today with various groups—various people—to stand in solidarity with one another for our humanity, to take action and to take solace in one another, in this moment,” said senior Cherranda Smith, one of the students who helped organize the vigil.
At the vigil it was announced that a “die-in” will be staged later this week, in addition to various other events responding to both the Garner case verdict and that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
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