On Thursday, the Increase The Peace Rally & Walk kicked off in front of the north doors of the Student Center. This student rally and march was against the recent spat of violence and crime that has plagued the community at Eastern Michigan University since the murder of Julia Niswender almost a year ago. Several hundred people showed up for the event.
“I think it’s a great demonstration of the Eastern family and community coming together to show support for the family and we don’t find this type of behavior acceptable or tolerable,” EMU President Susan Martin said. “Our Ypsilanti Police Department, Ypsilanti Township, Washtenaw County Sheriff and our police have met and worked out an agreement to increase the patrols on the perimeter of campus and these areas where students live. That has been done and will be taking place.”
The march went through the freshman center and across the Laforge Road Bridge. It went through the University Green apartment complex stalked by a squadron of reporters from as far away as Detroit.
Once the march of hundreds of students for Niswender reached the site of the most recent murder at EMU, they came back to the amphitheater by the ponds for a rally for Demarius Reed.
“I think the only way that we can solve this is by coming together as a community and show that we’re not going to stand for acts of random violence against the students,” said Aynsley Sterling-Meeuwen, a senior and history major, who lives off campus.
“I was actually assaulted a couple of weeks ago in the Student Center when a fight broke out over something,” said Andrew Dyl, a junior majoring in philosophy. “I don’t know what, it was someone stepped on someone’s shoe, and I got my eye cut open for it – simply for being in the wrong place in the wrong time. Then you have the homicides and you have the rapes and you have the assaults and the felony robberies, and its nihilistic attitude of human value and worth and life. It really is a discouraging feeling when it’s seven o’clock at night and you’re like, ‘I don’t want to go home from the library to the lot cause somebody may jump out and mug me or shoot me and take something from me simply for the fact that they can.’”
“Being a part of the march is very important because I have friends that stay at [University] Green and it could be any one of them,” said William John Tillery, a junior majoring in sports management. “And my sister is actually coming here this year and I want it to be safe for future years. I want her to be safe and feel safe. And it’s not her, it’s for everyone.”
Tillery said even with recent incidents, he would still want his sister to go to EMU.
“I just want to get everything back to OK and get security into different areas,” Tillery said. “I love Eastern as a school.”
“I am very hopeful,” she said. “I won’t quit until we find justice for Julia. No oneshould quit until we find justice for Demarius Reed, either. We’ll all band together to make sure there’s protection for our students and our community.”
Turnquist really urges people to speak up.
“Eastern’s been good to us,” she said. “The detectives at Ypsilanti have been good to us. I talk to them all the time. They’re actually the same detectives, from what I hear, that are handling Demarius’s case. They’re definitely going to need some help on the cases because we’re going to need help for both of them.”
There is a $10,000 reward for Demarius Reed as well as a $15,000 reward for Julia Niswender.
“Somebody somewhere knows something about these cases so we need those people to come forward and speak up,” Turnquist said.
Brandon Britt, president of the Black Student Union, hosted the event, which was organized with 15 other organizations.
“I’m very sad that we are together under these circumstances,” Britt said in the opening speech. “I just want to urge everyone, especially our student leaders, that if this is going to be the only time we come together as a diverse university, this should be an eye opener to all of us that this is the time for us to come together and unite and to get onto one base.”
In solidarity with the university, Britt described EMU as having “some of the greatest composition of staff and academic staff of any institution.”
Among the speakers at the vigil was EMU President Susan Martin, who spoke kind words to the family and friends of victims and responded to the recent rash of violent crimes on campus.
“We find this intolerable,” Martin said. “We have done many things on campus and it’s much safer but we need to do more. We want everyone to have the great college experience that Julia and Demarius were. They were exactly the kind of shining lights we love to see come to our campus.”
Also among those supporting the vigil was Police Chief Bob Heighes, who spoke to the crowd about increases of patrol in the North area just off campus.
“We will be working in conjunction with the Ypsilanti Police Department, Washtenaw Sheriff’s Department and Ypsilanti Township and will begin patrolling the area north of main campus where this incident happened,” Heighes said.
Students read poetry and the choir sang as students remembered the victims and showed support for the families dealing with this incredible loss.
Julia’s family spoke to Reed’s mother, who was sitting among the crowd. Julia’s father, Jim Turnquist, said, “I shed so many tears for you. I know what you’re going through. It hurts.”
Julia’s mother, Kim Turnquist, told the story of meeting Demarius just two weeks before his death and how he was comforting her about Julia.
“It made me sick to my stomach when I heard,” Turnquist said.
The final speakers to take the podium was Demarius’s mother and aunt with words of strength and encouragement despite their loss.
“I am thankful that God blessed me with a child like that,” Demarius’s mother said. “So strong and yet so loving, a good blend like a man should be. I have to be strong because I have other children. Demarius had four brothers and a sister. He was the first in my family to go away to school.”
“My life will never be the same,” Reed’s aunt said. “He was like a little brother, a son.”
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