UCSB Students and community members gather around the A.S. Pardall Center for the Black Student Union's event

UCSB Students and community members gather around the A.S. Pardall Center for the Black Student Union’s event “I Can’t Breathe: Open Mic Night and Candlelight Vigil,” held in light of two separate grand jury decisions to not indict police officers in the killings of black men. Eric Swenson/Daily Nexus

The Black Student Union (BSU) held a community gathering in front of the Associated Students Pardall Center Thursday night to address recent grand jury refusals to indict police officers for killings of unarmed black men Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

The event, titled “I Can’t Breathe: Open Mic Night and Candlelight Vigil,” was organized in light of the recent decision by a Staten Island grand jury to no bring criminal charges against white New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo for putting the unarmed Garner in a chokehold that led to his death, just after a St. Louis grand jury not to indict a white Missouri police officer for shooting the unarmed Brown. During the event students, I.V. residents and other UCSB-affiliated attendees spoke during a public statement period in which they condemned the verdict and expressed frustration over the verdicts’ implications.

According to third-year black studies major and event organizer Jamelia Harris, the gathering was created in order to give students the opportunity to “come and heal one another” in wake of “these consistent injustices.”

“Whether it be through poetry, art, hugs, poems, or music … to come together and express ourselves after what happened with Michael [in] Ferguson and Eric Garner … is the main thing we were trying to accomplish here,” Harris said.

According to Chican@ studies professor Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval, the deaths of Garner and Brown have sparked heated dialogue about race relations in the United States.

“I feel like we are winning because we are putting the conversation back on race,” Armbruster-Sandoval said. “Everybody knows it. We live in a racist society, from the 60’s onward, and people have tried to put it underneath the rug.”

Armbruster-Sandoval said that while the past two verdicts have caused widespread anger and frustration, Thursday night’s gathering illustrated the chance for progress to occur within social structures throughout the country.

“And now maybe from this tragedy something good will come from it,” Armbruster-Sandoval said.

The event concluded with the group forming a large circle and clapping their hands together, yelling “Black lives matter!”