Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts launches anti-riot campaign

Image copyright The Big Brother Watch Image caption Police from multiple agencies responded to the Big House Pile-Up as the circle reached the center of the block

We don’t know what the children did in these places. We do know that they were supervised

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts has begun a new initiative, using social media, to encourage people to use public discussion spaces to receive and share their reactions to the violent riots of 18 September.

The “Fuck Rittenhouse” (@‎FuckRittenhouse) account features photos of the now-vacant space and some tools to create conversations. The posts and questions are accompanied by an accompanying hashtag.

The initiative represents just one approach to respond to a night when police and demonstrators converged on Rittenhouse Square in the city’s West End to protest an acquittal of a white man who fatally shot a black man after an altercation.

As the confrontation between police and anti-racist protesters became increasingly volatile, more than 50 people were arrested during clashes outside the city’s city hall.

For Greg O’Dea, a spokesman for the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, it was an emergency response that isn’t going to run away from public scrutiny.

“We don’t know what the children did in these places,” he told the BBC, “We do know that they were supervised. We do know that we have a responsibility as a community to come together, to heal and try to work toward more social justice.”

School administrators said that not only had the students taken responsibility for managing the space, they also had input into what the installation would be and that it would be closely supervised.

Image copyright Mass. College of Liberal Arts Image caption A mural celebrating the 52-hour period under the scaffolding where the project unfolded

Indeed, the space was closed to the public on the night of the riot, with authorities allowing students to use it on the hours following the protests.

“It was a real opportunity for us to engage and debate,” Mr O’Dea said.

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts isn’t an offshoot of Cambridge University or St. Louis University. It’s an independent independent school with an enrollment of students from different communities, religions and backgrounds.

Its Boston campus is also home to the weekly presentation of Mob City, a play about the history of segregation in the city by a local playwright.

When the university decided to put on their response to Rittenhouse, the Big Brother Watch, a group that monitors online misinformation, noticed the project and documented its progress on its Twitter account.

Images of the school’s decision to use these public spaces for feedback were liked, shared and retweeted thousands of times.

Image copyright Twitter

Image copyright Twitter

Image copyright Twitter

The response was “overwhelmingly positive,” said Mrs O’Dea.

The overall experience was “a significant humanitarian lesson for the students, a deeply sobering lesson for the community, and a profound teaching moment for the faculty, staff and administrators who stood in the gap,” said Keith Snelling, president of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

The response to the university’s initiative is showing that people have the power to take action.

“We are seeing large-scale social action after a week of unrest in the public square,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

“Some saw it as happening in the shadows, but it’s happening in the public square now – where people gather to talk about real problems.

“This grassroots response shows us that people are ready to get off the sidelines and move beyond burning things,” he added.

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