Students speak out against racial injustice

Original: The Cavalier Daily  September 25, 2016

More than 100 University students participated in a ‘die-in’ Friday by lying on the ground outside of Old Cabell Hall. The die-in was in commemoration of National Blackout Day, which came following the deaths of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott.

Students were encouraged to attend the event and wear all black clothing to express support for National Blackout Day.

“Black student organizations in several colleges across the nation will be participating in a National Blackout Day to join in solidarity with Terence Crutcher, Keith Lamont Scott and countless others who have lost their lives to police brutality,” a statement released by the Black Student Alliance read.

BSA political action director Wes Gobar, a third-year College student, said he and Anelle Mensah, BSA political action vice director and second-year College student, chose to have a die-in as opposed to other forms of direct action as it both provided a place for students to talk about their pain and conveyed a powerful visual image.

Old Cabell Hall was chosen as the location for the die-in because it was originally built to block out the minority community below it, Gobar said.

“I think one of the most important aspects is confronting people with the actual costs — the number of deaths, the number of families ruined,” Gobar said. “It was great to have everyone come out, have their voices heard, show up in mass and stand in solidarity.”

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Gobar began the die-in by giving a speech he wrote while thinking about recent acts of police brutality and then opened up the floor for others to speak.

“I was channeling anger from recent events, from the murders of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott. I began to think about my fall semester two years ago — coming to U.Va. in 2014, you have Michael Brown, Eric Garner and John Crawford III, who were all victims of police brutality,” Gobar said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “I even began to think about the spring — Martese [Johnson] last year — and just why we’re having to come out and still do these events.”

 In his speech, Gobar spoke out against the racist writings recently found in the Kent and Dabney dorms.

“It was only weeks ago that we saw in the Kent dormitory students who were presented with racist and hateful language at the hands of their fellow students,” Gobar said. “Thus, we hope that this demonstration will prove a catalyst for future discussion about black oppression, racism and change at this university … those people who wrote those messages on the Kent dorm — they will not win.”

Fourth-year College student Edward Alexander also spoke during the die-in. Alexander said his cousin was killed by an officer, and his uncle was wrongly imprisoned for 10 years based on DNA that he said wasn’t found on him.

“When I speak, I’m not speaking for the macro. I’m talking about me, my personal life,” Alexander said. “So when I say black lives matter, my life matters. Your life matters. How many more videos can we watch?”

Alexander also asked the white community to become more involved.

“While black lives matter, I implore my white friends, my white peers, to no longer just be liberal and just retweet and throw this on your newsfeed,” Alexander said. “This is your problem. There is no reason BSA has to be the one holding a racial sensitivity talk after white people are spraying [the n-word] on people’s dorms.”

Alexander said he attended the die-in because he wanted to do something to combat the feeling of powerlessness he often has.

“I just [wanted] to do something. It gets to a point. You feel powerless. I cry almost every day. It may be a tear or two. I cry every day, but the other day, I sobbed. I broke down,” Alexander said. “I really needed this.”

Alexander also said the point of the die-in was not to come up with a solution but rather to heal as a community.

“This isn’t about figuring out what we’re doing next. We just need to heal,” Alexander said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “This right here, this community healing — this is why we need events like this, to heal.”

First-year College student Alazar Aklilu also stood up and encouraged the students who were in attendance by delivering an efficacious speech.

“You are evoking change. By you being here … you are doing something while your friends are out, preparing to go do fun things with the rest of their night,” Aklilu said. “You have voluntarily committed your time to lie down in front of Old Cabell Hall because you want people to know you’re tired. You’re sick.”

Aklilu applauded students for showing up and taking a stand against injustice.

“By you being in front of Old Cabell Hall today, you are doing something … Don’t ever, ever feel like you don’t have a purpose in this life,” Aklilu said. “Stand up for those that are being targeted. Stand up when you see inequality. Stand up when you see injustice. Because I don’t want to be lying out here.”

Aklilu had initially just come to the die-in to take pictures but said he realized it was an opportunity for him to vocalize his feelings about racial injustice.

“I realized it’s not good to keep your emotions bottled up. You need a platform to speak on that isn’t social media,” Aklilu said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “Sometimes, when a gathering like this happens, as rare as it is, it’s really important for you to be out here, to voice your opinions.”

Aklilu, Alexander and Gobar were just a few of the many students who chose to speak during the die-in. Each had a different powerful message to convey in the half-hour during which the event took place.

Following the die-in, several students stood up, joined hands and created a prayer circle on the grass in front of Old Cabell Hall. Gobar then ended the die-in by getting up to speak one last time.

“This is our space. This is our University. So yes, we will continue to be out here. We will continue to fight injustice. And we will continue to pursue justice for those who have been shot, who have been silenced, for those families who have lost,” Gobar said. “So thank you all of you for coming out here. I love all of you. Thank you so much.”

Kate Bellows contributed to this article.

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