SceneHere: Signs of Ferguson

As media members from The Republican, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, ABC 40 Springfield, and CBS 3 Springfield waited under a wintry noonday sun, 200 students walked out of class to the applause of a handful of older activists and gathered at the entrance to Amherst Regional High School. After thanking a dozen or so students from the middle school who had joined them, they stayed silent for four and a half minutes — to represent the four and a half hours Michael Brown’s body lay on the street after he was killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.

Students bowed their heads. Newspaper photographers snapped pictures. Kathleen Anderson, president of the Amherst chapter of the NAACP, raised her right fist. The American flag flapped gently at the top of the school’s flag pole in the chilly December breeze.

When the long moment was over, the march began. The students headed to town at a brisk pace, past the school’s football field, then down Lessey Street, holding signs that read among other things, “Being black isn’t a crime” and “Would you shoot me?” and chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, racism has got to go!” The elders lingered behind.

Walking up Main Street along the sidewalk, the students passed Pasta E Basta and Amherst Books. As police officers stopped traffic, the students crossed the downtown intersection without breaking stride and rallied at the steps of the Jones Library.

Motorists turned their heads as they drove along the busy streets. A few honked supportively. A man in a New England Patriots jacket recorded the marchers with his cell phone. Two others lingered on the sidewalk, listening as students spoke through a megaphone. A woman in Amherst Coffee stepped outside to photograph the crowd.

Standing on a truck parked in front of the library, Amherst School Committee representative and UMass professor Amilcar Shabazz led the crowd in chants of “No justice, no peace!” (Or was it “Know justice, know peace”?)

As the students applauded, a moment of strange serendipity: a man drove by, largely unnoticed, in a company truck labeled Ferguson Signs.

(Originally appeared in the Valley Advocate.)

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