We write on behalf of the Asian American Studies Program at Boston College, which supports research and coursework on the experiences of Asians in the United States. Recent protests in Ferguson, New York City, and across the nation sparked by grand jury decisions not to indict the officers involved in the death of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have been very much on our minds. These protests have often inspired us when they have been peaceful, as they show great moral conviction, a clarity of political purpose, and a resolve to keep fighting for greater social justice.
The use of die-ins in particular has been a powerful form of creative expression that call to mind the many actual bodies that have been shot, beaten, and choked by the police. They conjure in the most haunting way how Michael Brown’s body was allowed to lie dead on a street in Ferguson for four-and-a-half hours after his shooting death, almost as if his deceased body did not deserve to be mourned and cared for. They conjure the bodies of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, and so many others who are now deceased, as well as the bodies of those injured but thankfully not killed like Miyekko Durden-Bosley (who had been punched by a Seattle police officer while handcuffed in the back seat of a patrol car so hard her eye socket was broken).
We as Asian American Studies scholars are also sensitive to this issue because we know that Asian Americans have been in the news for their own run-ins with the police, such as Kong Wan, an 84-year-old Chinese American who was beaten by police officers for the offense of jaywalking across 96th Street in New York City. We are also aware that the issue affects other communities of color, including Latinos. Just recently, the 76-year-old Pete Vasquez was slammed against a car and shot with a Taser gun twice in Texas for trying to explain to an officer that the special dealer plates on his vehicle exempted him from receiving a ticket for an expired inspection sticker.
It is for these reasons that we were heartened to hear BC students organized their own protests on campus, including a die-in last week at St. Mary’s. We feel the entire BC community should feel proud of these students for being willing to take time off from their busy end-of-the-semester schedules and to risk public acrimony for taking a stand on an issue they feel passionately about. They were applying Jesuit ideals: be attentive, be reflective, and be loving. They clearly are paying attention to what is happening around them in the world. They are thinking hard about what these events mean, not only for their lives but for the lives of so many others they will never know. And they are showing their love by their willingness to act, even in a symbolic way, to show solidarity to the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of protestors who have taken to American streets to demand a better justice system. In doing so, they recognize that what is at the heart of a Jesuit education is a firm commitment to social justice.
Through their actions, what these students have sought to teach all of us is how none of us are removed from the concerns mobilizing the current mass protests. These concerns are intimately a part of our lives, and cannot be ignored. Their die-in was a disruption of our everyday activities, and as such a forceful reminder that business-as-usual is now costing the lives of many African American men and women.
We encourage the university to recognize the justice of what our students are protesting for, greater transparency and accountability for everyone in our criminal justice system, by making clear that no disciplinary action is going to be taken against them. In any case, it’s clear from several accounts given about the die-in that some students were given permission to enter the building during a powerful Nor’easter and that once inside they acted respectfully.
We also feel that this is an important occasion for student affairs to reevaluate its policy around permits. Excess bureaucracy only contributes to the sense that we do not prize the liberties of our students or their abilities to engage in the mature practice of their civic responsibilities. What we most need now is for the university to do all it can to encourage our students to speak freely.
Min Hyoung Song, Professor of English and Director of the Asian American Studies Program
Ramsay Liem, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Former Co-Coordinator of the Asian American Studies Program