ASHLAND — At the start of Southern Oregon University's historically quiet "dead week" before finals, shouts rang out on campus and nearby Siskiyou Boulevard.
"Ferguson PD, you are guilty. Ferguson PD, you are guilty."
"Black lives matter. All lives matter."
The Monday morning chants came from a group of about 60 protesters for Operation #HandsUpWalkOut, organized by SOU's Black Student Union. Attendees held up signs as they trudged through Ashland, hoping to raise awareness about the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. Last week, a grand jury chose not to indict Wilson on murder charges after hearing conflicting testimonies, some of which indicated that Wilson was defending himself as Brown charged him. Others testified that Wilson provoked a confrontation and shot Brown when he had his hands up. Wilson has since resigned from the department.
The series of events has caught the attention of the country and world at large, sparking discussions about racism and police brutality. Riots and clashes between rioters and police have also broken out in Ferguson following the decision. Monday's SOU walkout was one of many across the U.S., with protesters hoping to address the issues and keep the discussion alive.
"When I am labeled as a criminal or a deviant by a system I'm seeking to change, I do not need an ally," Black Student Union president Ahsante Foree told attendees before the march began. "I need an accomplice. I need a co-conspirator acting with me in love and fellowship as we walk hand in hand to change systems that those (who) came before us thought that they were done with."
The group began their march in front of SOU's Churchill Hall and walked to the college's student union, where they observed a moment of silence for Brown. The group then continued walking around campus and back and forth across Siskiyou Boulevard in the crosswalks — which slowed traffic and drew a small police presence to the scene — before marching toward downtown. The protesters drew supportive honks from passing motorists.
Ashland police Deputy Chief and Jackson County Sheriff-elect Corey Falls said the department responded to keep an eye on the march, but it never appeared to get out of hand.
"We just monitor it just to make sure people are safe," Falls said.
Marquis Malcom, BSU faculty adviser, said the walkout was about more than just Ferguson. Rather, he said, it's meant to draw attention to these types of fatal incidents continuing to happen.
"This has been happening our entire existence. It's the historical context," Malcom said, adding there is no simple solution to the problem and that issues of police militarization, poverty, lack of resources and lack of education all contribute to it.
Student Cortney Voss said that Ferguson is important to keep in front of people and she hopes it doesn't fade.
"It just needs to be known and told over and over again," Voss said. "Just that thought of losing someone because of a bias, that hurts."
Protest attendee Deelani Hookano said it is important to approach the issue peacefully, despite frustration.
"The problem is the peaceful protesters will never get anywhere if they keep being silenced by violence," Hookano said. "I think especially the Brown family has handled this remarkably well for losing their son. So I think we just need to stand with them and their personal remarks that we need to protest peacefully."
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.