A movement created by AHS students to discuss social inequality
On December 8, 2014, a social awareness movement was started by five individuals who wanted to make a difference; they hosted a meeting about a controversial topic about the social inequality that is still prevalent today.
This issue became even more problematic after 18-year-old victim Michael Brown, an African American, was shot in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. The police brutality that Brown encountered sparked anger in not only his friends and family members, but from citizens throughout the United States as well. The rage that they felt was amplified after the Grand Jury decided that Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown, was not going to be indicted, leading to protests throughout the nation.
“It’s never a good thing when someone so young dies, and in the way that [Michael Brown] did,” junior Andrea Kwong said. “While the truth behind the whole situation and what actually happened is still obscure, people all over the world, including myself, feel the need to speak up about this incident. We are taking this chance to raise awareness about the social inequality that exists in our society, and it’s tragic how in our society today, a young man has to die [in order] for society to begin to notice the flaws.”
After the Ferguson incident occurred, many citizens proposed a solution: requiring police officers to wear video cameras on their body. The solution, however, was marred by an earlier incident, another example of social disparity.
On July 17, 2014, 43-year-old victim Eric Garner, also an African American, was killed by officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put him in a chokehold. A numerous amount of citizens felt that this was another example of police brutality because the officer did not let go even though Garner repeatedly cried, “I can’t breathe.” Although the entire scene was recorded by bystander Ramsey Orta, Officer Pantaleo was not indicted for his actions, leading citizens to believe that video cameras would be ineffective.
“There was some ambiguity in the Ferguson case in the question of self defense, whereas in the Eric Garner case, the killing itself was caught on tape,” an anonymous student said. “Both cases have the same outcome and that’s frustrating.”
Because of these recent issues and after talking to Kamal Kaur, an American High alumni, who pitched the idea of starting a movement, senior Kemi Giwa felt the need to raise awareness to these prevalent problems. This led to the creation of the Social Inequality Awareness Movement.
This movement, SIAM for short, is led by seniors Giwa, Tylore Bell, Lauren Clark, Elias Kamal, and junior Andrea Kwong. The point of this movement is to get students of American High School to discuss not just the issues in Ferguson, but all the inequality that exists.
To make their voices heard, Giwa, Bell, Clark, and Kwong attended a peaceful protest at San Jose State University on December 7, 2014. Approximately 150 people attended the protest, organized by a group called “Students 4 Ferguson,” which is a passionate group that fights for civil liberties.
“When people get together and demand change, the government starts to listen,” Giwa said. “I feel the main point was to be with a group of people with a common goal―the goal [to] end social inequality.”
The day after the protest, the five leaders of SIAM hosted a meeting at American High, where they each expressed their opinions about the current issues of social disparity. Giwa started the conversation by first expressing her dissatisfaction with Wilson’s actions.
“[Darren Wilson has been] a police officer for a few years, through all the training he’s been through, the experiences he has had, and the different types of people [he has encountered], I feel he is trained well enough to know that there are other measures rather than immediately resorting to [killing],” Giwa said.
After all the leaders had spoken, others were encouraged to voice their opinions.
“I went to the meeting to make a difference,” junior Lauryn Brooks said. “I am not letting [police officers] misuse their power and kill a poor young boy, who happens to be black. I don’t want to be scared of cops [when] walking down the street, but I am. As a black person, I always have the feeling that people look at just my race, and nothing more. I want to end racism, sexism, and all these other harsh stereotypes for large groups of people. I was really happy and proud to see people in my age group talk about this [issue], I thought I was alone.”
Officer Tang, the police officer who ensures the safety of American High, was also asked a few questions by the students. He replied to one student, saying that if he had been in Wilson’s situation, he would have observed the environment rather than immediately resorting to violence. And, to the surprise of some people, he revealed that the chokehold done by the police officer is an unauthorized action in the New York Police Department.
After the adjournment of the meeting, many people, including junior Teresa Lee, thought the meeting was successful due to fact that people were able to say their opinions without judgment.
“I believe the meeting was incredibly successful, because many [people] contributed great insight to the discussion, creating a peaceful and safe environment,” Lee said. “In addition, there were many viewpoints which offered new perspectives, and it was just overall amazing to have students come together to discuss social inequality, which has been and is a big issue in the world.”
Overall, the members of SIAM have no doubt that the impact of this movement will be a positive one.
“Throughout history, protests have led to major changes that affect us to this day,” Kwong said. “Us protesting now will essentially change the future and pave the road or our future generations to come. This event in Ferguson has sparked a new movement—a chance for us to provoke change and better our society in some way or another, which is what I hope for.”