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Bench press: Pacific paint job sparks lively debate

Online comments cover wide range of reactions to Ferguson, Mo., shooting

Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JILL REHKOPF SMITH - Pacific University students painted the schools spirit bench with messages of support for Ferguson, Mo., and Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed there by a white police officer.The fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the grand-jury decision not to prosecute the police officer who killed him has sparked debate across the country, including here in western Washington County and especially at Pacific University, where students repainted the school’s “spirit bench” to indicate solidarity with Brown and with the outraged Ferguson community.

The Pacific University Facebook page drew a steady stream of passionate reactions to the paint job — from both sides of the issue. Here, in no particular order and with names removed, are excerpts from the page, which can be viewed in full at facebook.com/pacificu.

n I wish I could be at Pacific to see this bench for myself. Amidst the onslaught of Ferguson-related images hitting my Facebook feed, this was the first that gave me hope. Some may see the Brown case decision as “justice,” and reactions towards the “no indictment” verdict — the violence, unrest, and protests — as irresponsible acts of aggression. Such a perspective is understandable. But let’s not forget that Martin Luther King Jr. once called riots the “language of the unheard.” There are reasons for the widespread civil unrest that have followed the Ferguson ruling. There is more than just one city or state that has been affected. Communities across the nation have risen up to make themselves heard. They protest conditions that run more deeply than Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin; that encompass a legacy of prejudice and injustice. This bench first and foremost seems to be an outpouring of love and sympathy to the Brown family. But perhaps it also honors the struggle that our country’s black community has undoubtedly endured for so many years. It voices the fact that the societal cancer — one that America thought was defeated at the abolition of slavery, and then with the Civil Rights Movement, and then the election of a black president — has yet to be cured. 

n As an Alumni of Pacific, it saddens me to see this bench painted in honor of this guy. Should be painted in honor of all of those serving in law enforcement.

n I agree-support those who are following the law not against

n With respect for those who hold different opinions, I want to thank the students who painted the spirit bench. They remembered that no matter how one might view the grand jury decision that a life was lost. It is right to mourn when a young person dies, particularly under tragic circumstances.

n Let’s be honest, the mourning of a life lost was a stretch... When a piece of pop culture symbolizing civil disobedience and unrest is used it shows the intent of the painter! Mourning was not the intent!

n The fact that this bench is painted on honor of (Brown) disappoints me. As someone who participated in many of the spirit bench paintings I am concerned. This bench isn’t meant for political BS but for school events and spirit. Someone should go paint over that crap as soon as possible with a big school logo!

n Is that how you felt when it was painted for 9/11?

n I find this comment thread quite disheartening. We often complain about millennial political apathy. In this case, students are taking a small step (painting a bench on campus) in becoming involved in broader discourses and discussions about structural racism, police brutality, and social justice. However, they are met with such negativity, hate, disgust, and contempt that seems to attempt to put students in their place and tell them their actions are unacceptable. College is a place for students to grow, develop their ability to think critically, express their beliefs, and find out who they are and what they really believe in. We can’t complain about millennial apathy if this is what happens to them when they try to be engaged (yes, everyone’s not going to agree with your opinion, but we should at least be able to respect each other’s humanity and be civil with one another). This comment thread seems to send a very clear message to the students who painted this or support this — don’t be politically engaged unless you agree with the establishment. Therefore, I echo Chuck Currie in saying thanks to the students who were brave, invested, and concerned enough to paint this bench and start many important conversations on our campus.

n Thank you to our police officers, our active military, our veterans, and other public servants who sacrifice (sometimes everything) to protect our freedom and our country. I marvel at your willingness to lay it all on the line. You do this despite rules of engagement that make your jobs more difficult and more dangerous. You do this with the possibility that you could face legal action by acting in self-defense while in the line of duty. You do this despite leadership in this country, including at the highest level, that is willing to use you as a political pawn to achieve their agenda. Thank you for your service.Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JILL REHKOPF SMITH - The Mockingjay symbol, taken from dystopian trilogy The Hunger Games, represents rebellion against oppressors.

n I think everyone who’s called for the bench being repainted need to take a minute to consider that students obviously felt the need to express themselves and have that right. The bench is one of the places we have been encouraged to do that. Also, regardless of where you land on whether Wilson should have been indicted, remember that if it was justified or not, a young man was killed. He may have been a criminal, but that doesn’t negate his humanity. And to those who don’t recognize that, yes, this is a racial issue, check your own privilege. The young man was statistically more likely to have this happen to him than not. There is an epidemic of black youth incarceration and mortality at the hands of police. If Wilson was justified in his actions, so be it. But recognize that the black community and other minority communities have trust issues with the police, and rightly so.

n Very sad. I will have to rethink any further financial support to Pacific University.

n I find this thread quite interesting. I expressed my opinion on the bench, as did many others. The great thing about our nation, is that very ability. Some here have stronger views than others, but we all have the right to express them. For you current students who advocate that we past students have no say in how you paint “your” bench, I would say to you don’t try to suppress our freedom to speak and express our opinion just as you vehemently insist we not do the same to you. This fantastic university taught us all how to think and express our thoughts proudly and intelligently. When you advocate we be quiet and go elsewhere, it only shows a shallowness of thought and makes some question who truly believes in our individual rights and who doesn’t. We love you all. We share the same university, and yet, we all took different things from that education. I don’t particularly like the current painting, and that is nothing more than my opinion, which I freely share. Agree or do not, that is your right, just as it is, and always will be, my right to express it. Peace

n PU is a very Leftist school, so they love Democrat Terrorists over those who serve!

n I’m disappointed that reactions to the bench are simply perpetuating the very fundamental us vs. them attitudes that fuel the social -isms. Because students are drawing attention to social injustice in the world does not mean they are supportive of cop-killers, looting, etc.; it means they recognize the need for change and are using their voice to start a conversation. As an alum and current faculty member, I find it refreshing that our students are “spirited” about something bigger than themselves.

n Wow... this makes me reconsider my enrollment at this university.

n Made me reconsider my donations to the university.

n Moral of this sad story is. Raise your children to be decent respectful people that don’t strong arm rob stores. Children that respect laws and property. Make sure they understand if you attack a police officer they WILL defend themselves.

n The protests in Ferguson have grown to represent something far larger than Darren Wilson or Mike Brown. They represent the issue of racial injustice in this country, particularly in reference to policing. Regardless of Darren Wilson’s guilt or innocence, the shooting and incarceration of black men in this country is an enormous issue that has been ignored by our government. These students are not simply standing up for Mike Brown, they are standing against racism and inequality. They should be praised.

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