Whitman students and faculty held a vigil in the Amphitheatre on Monday, Feb. 17th for the late Pasco, Wash. resident and police shooting victim Antonio Zambrano-Montes and for Chapel Hill shooting victims Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha.
Zambrano-Montes, a young farm worker and Mexican national, was shot and killed while fleeing police in Pasco on Tuesday, Feb. 10. Police had been called to a storefront where Zambrano-Montes was throwing rocks at cars. Zambrano-Montes threw rocks at the officers when they arrived, hitting two. The officers tried to tase him, whereupon he turned and ran, putting his hands up. The officers chased Zambrano across an intersection before shooting him several times.
The shooting has drawn national scrutiny as a Latino parallel to the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. last year. Protests and vigils have sprung up around the country, and investigations are being undertaken by the Franklin County Coroner, the Tri-City Special Investigations Unit (an independent unit from the Pasco police force) and the FBI.
The other three victims, all college students, were killed in an unrelated shooting that many have characterized as a hate crime related to their Muslim faith. The official police report states that the shooting was the result of a parking dispute, but the FBI has opened an inquiry to determine whether it merits hate crime status.
While the vigil included a few mentions of Barakat and the Abu-Salha sisters, it focused primarily on the death of Zambrano-Montes and others at the hands of police.
Rough estimates place attendance for the vigil at around 100. Attendees, which included students, faculty and administrators, held candles and wrote messages for the victims’ families on index cards to be posted on the event’s Facebook page. The event featured a speech by Visiting Assistant Professor of Rhetoric Studies Andrew Culp, as well as speeches and poems by students.
The organizers of the vigil took inspiration from a protest march which they attended in Pasco earlier that weekend. Junior Theo Ciszewski, who attended the march and hosted the vigil, said that in the early stages of planning the vigil was meant to serve as a sort of surrogate to the march.
“Originally I wasn’t sure that I was going to able to go to Pasco, and I knew that a lot of other students probably wouldn’t make it either. So this was about providing a forum for that event here, a way to acknowledge it,” Ciszewski said. “Once I ended up going, it became a way to share what happened there here.”
The vigil featured speeches from Culp, Ciszewski, senior Marga deJong and senior Alisha Agard as well as a poem from sophomore Annie Want. The speeches, especially Culp’s, focused largely on the use of the language of security to over-police communities of color.
“What’s interesting is that after Ferguson, we no longer see police officers in the midst of crises trying to defend their own behavior on behalf of the whole community,” said Culp in his speech. “In fact, they no longer imagine themselves representing the community at all. You can see statistics of this; they’re fairly simple. The majority of police officers in hotspot areas don’t even live in the county in which they police.”
Junior Nick Hochfeld, who attended the event, said that he was generally impressed with its execution.
“I thought it was really good,” he said. It was “definitely warranted, a really powerful speech, and I’m pleasantly surprised at the turnout.”
Hochfeld added that while the turnout was higher than he expected, he wishes that more students would take the time to attend events such as this one. He also remarked on the bittersweet nature of such programs.
“I try to make it whenever I can,” he said of the vigil and its recent predecessors in response to the Ferguson shooting, adding wryly that “it’s not a good thing that there could be a pattern of how often you go to these sort of events.”