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Amherst rally draws 100 to pledge solidarity with victim’s community

AMHERST — There were many signs on display at the National Day of Solidarity Actions’ Justice for Mike Brown rally in Amherst Saturday afternoon, but the most striking was in the hands of a 13-year-old Amherst boy. It read, “I am a black teen and my life matters.”

Viseth Loeung-Coleman, 13, said he’s afraid that walking down the streets by himself, he could wind up like Michael Brown, unarmed and dead by an officer’s bullet.

“That kind of scares me,” he said into a microphone.

More than 100 people turned out to the rally Saturday at 1 p.m. on the Town Commons in support of Brown, 18, who died Aug. 9, after being shot by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson.

Ferguson police have said Wilson stopped Brown and another man because they were jaywalking, but continue to investigate what led to the shooting. Brown was unarmed at the time, the police said. People have come forward as witnesses to say they saw Brown’s hands in the air just before he was shot. Police have since said that Brown is a suspect in a robbery that took place on that day, but Wilson was unaware of this at the time of the shooting.

Protests have been spilling out in Ferguson since Brown’s death. On Saturday — one week since the shooting — the groups in and around Ferguson called for a “National Day of Solidarity Actions: Justice for Mike Brown” at 1 p.m.

Amherst’s protest was publicized by several local groups, including the Amherst National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and drew people from surrounding communities as well as the town.

Lisa Baskin, of Leeds, said she came to “express solidarity with Mike Brown’s family, Trayvon Martin’s family, with all those unnamed.”

She said she believes that what happened in Ferguson could happen anywhere.

“I’m here to speak out and not be silent,” she said. “I want little children to not be afraid.”

Loeung-Coleman’s mother, Sovann-Malis Loeung, agreed.

“The Michael Brown situation is not an isolated incident,” she said. “The is an institutional systematic problem of racism.”

Loeung held a sign listing over a dozen people killed in racially-motivated attacks or in incidents of suspected racism across the country. The names on the sign included Brown, Trayvon Martin in Florida, Eric Gardner and Sean Bell in New York, Icarus Randolph in Kansas, Renisha McBride in Michigan, Emmett Till in Mississippi, and locally, Lenny Brown and Benjamin Schoolfield in Springfield. She asked fellow ralliers to add names to the sign.

Amherst School Committee member Amilcar Shabazz, who is also chairman of the Amherst-Pelham Equity Task Force for addressing racial tensions in the schools, was among those who helped to publicize Saturday’s rally.

He held up a sign that said, “I am Michael Brown / Don’t Shoot” Many ralliers held their open hands in the air as Brown is said to have before being shot.

Other messages on signs included, “We Stand with Michael Brown’s Family,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Justice for Mike Brown,” and “United Against Hate.”

Several motorists honked their horns in support.

Shabazz said that it’s great when just “two or three” people gather in the name of justice.

“We’ve got more than two or three,” he said with a laugh. “So I think it’s really fantastic.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.

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