In a brief but poignant gesture, students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School made a silent statement of protest Tuesday over the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
At noon, more than 60 law students, black and white, gathered in the law school's Great Hall and lay on the marble floor for 41/2 minutes of silence in what they described as a "die-in."
The quick, quiet protest was a reference to the 41/2 hours that Brown's body lay on the street on Aug. 9 after he was fatally shot by Officer Darren Wilson.
"Not only was Mike Brown disrespected in the last few minutes of his life," said law student David Washington, "he was disrespected for 41/2 hours after.
"There was absolutely no reason to leave him out there in the August sun and have a grieving community around there seeing officers picking at his body," Washington said.
Dorian Simmons, a fellow law student who helped stage the protest, said the gathering was organized by a coalition of student groups at Penn Law.
He said the protest was planned Monday, after students listened to a panel of professors discuss the significance of Brown's slaying and the widespread protests that followed a grand jury's decision last week to not indict Wilson.
After the panel discussion, "a few of us got together and decided that we wanted to join in solidarity with the other protesters across the country," Simmons said.
Erica Holland, another law student, noted the symbolic importance of the "die-in."
It is "very important to show that Michael Brown is a human being just like all the other unarmed human beings killed by police officers," Holland said. "We may be Penn law students, but we are no different."
She said the protest shows that Penn law students "are aware of what's going on, and that this is something that we care about and something we can take a stand on and use our voice at an institution like this, where it may be louder than some others."
Holland and others voiced appreciation for the faculty panel discussion.
"We were able to listen to people who litigated these cases, who are our professors and experts on these things, and get their take on it," she said.
"As future lawyers, we can continue to pay attention to these incidents and not act like this is a one-time thing," Holland said. "You can take positions, use your voice, and work in the public interest."
Student Meghan Binford said the protest was also a way to encourage dialogue about racial concerns.
"At least we're showing how to bring up these issues of race and how to talk about them in a way that is sort of fluid, as opposed to having just a divisive conversation," Binford said.
Holland said lying in silence during the protest was a moving experience.
"Just me lying there next to another third-year friend of mine, we started to get emotional because you sit and reflect upon somebody that you cared about lying on the ground for 41/2 hours.
"Imagine me being shot dead in the Great Hall and lying here for 41/2 hours. It's a little crazy for us to lay here for just 41/2 minutes and get all this attention," Holland said.