Wake Forest students hold candlelight vigil for Michael Brown

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Emma Northcott (from left), Marchel Ebron, and Andy Vuong listen to a speaker during a rally in support of Michael Brown at Manchester Plaza on the campus of Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., Thursday Aug. 28, 2014. (Bruce Chapman/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A candlelight vigil mingled with calls for action Thursday night on the campus of Wake Forest University as about 200 students marked the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed earlier this month by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Ferguson is far from Winston-Salem, but many students who spoke drew a connection between Brown and events on campus, where some students said campus police have not treated students fairly.

Wake Forest University Police Chief Regina Lawson sent students a letter on Thursday in which she reviewed steps the university is taking and plans to take to tackle “the perception of police bias.”

But some speakers criticized the idea that there is only a perception of bias, and called for more dialogue on race relations at Wake Forest. Students said they are planning a meeting on campus today to start making plans to address their concerns, including what some students called the over-policing of black fraternity and sorority events.

The candlelight vigil took place at one end of Manchester Plaza, the old Magnolia Quad. Students handed candles from a box to other students so that by nightfall the end of the quad glowed with points of light. Some students described the vigil as a leaderless effort put together by students with similar concerns.

“These are different students from every walk of life, different states and all sorts of ideologies,” William Ray, a junior, said. “It is important that we hold this event. This isn’t something that is confined to one area.”

Ray added that he found in talking to students before the event that some were not even familiar with the shooting of Brown.

The shooting took place on Aug. 9 in a suburb of St. Louis, Mo. Brown, who was 18, was shot six times by Officer Darren Wilson during a confrontation. The shooting set off weeks of racial unrest.
Sophomore Angelique Bassard, holding a candle as she waited for the event, said that she was there to support “my people … the black community,” and that the issue was more than just the single incident in Ferguson.

“It is the whole issue of racial violence,” she said, adding that some people pretend it is not happening.”

Bassard’s roommate, Felicita Rich, is white. She said that she was there to learn:

“It is important to keep what is happening there (in Ferguson) from happening here,” she said.

Several speakers took issue with a report issued Aug. 20 after allegations of racial bias against members of the Wake Forest University police department. The allegations arose in a Town Hall meeting last March. A key finding of the report was that “none of the allegations of racial bias rose to the level of actual bias,” although “many of the allegations could be perceived by students as evidence of such.”

Alan Bowie, a second-year law student at Wake Forest, said that the events in Ferguson are forcing people to talk about race.

“One way of creating understanding is to have open dialogue,” Bowie said.