Several hundred University of Illinois students, instructors, and community members turned out yesterday for a die-in event in honor of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and other Black victims of police violence.
Protestors reminded the community of the local resonances in these recent failures of the justice system. “Remember Kiwane: No More Stolen Lives,” one prominently displayed sign proclaimed, referencing the 2009 shooting of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington by Daniel Norbits, a former Champaign police officer.
The event lasted from roughly 11:30 a.m.–4 p.m., with protestors coming and going as their schedules allowed. The significance of the four and a half hour protest is that Mike Brown was left outside for four and a half hours before his body was retrieved.
At 11:30 a.m., participants marched across campus from Anniversary Plaza, through the Illini Union, and to the Alma Mater, where chants of “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Turn up, don’t turn it down, we do this for Mike Brown,” and “I can’t breathe” continued until noon.
At noon, attendees “died” in three separate waves according to the organizers’ instructions.
They were visible for the next four hours to people passing through (and by) campus, as well as remote viewers watching the events through the Alma Mater Web Cam live stream. A bold green banner stating “Black Lives Matter” was draped over Alma’s arms.
“I just heard about this about half an hour,” one protestor, an undergraduate, told me. “This is for such an important cause that I decided to come over. I have to leave for class in a few minutes, but I still wanted to be here.”
The event was organized primarily by the Central Black Student Union, but members of a number of undergraduate and graduate student organizations, as well as Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice and the local NAACP chapter, also contributed to planning.
“I graduated from the University of Illinois, and I used to be the director of the African American Cultural Center. I’m partly here because I’m proud that the students are speaking out and taking time to recognize that this is an important issue that we need to stand up for. Often times, you’ll hear people say that the students don’t care, that they’re not engaged. But this is a demonstration that they do care about. They’re obviously engaged.
It’s important because there are demonstrations happening all over the nation, and this university should be represented to show that we do feel that Black lives matter and that we do believe that racism still exists. And there are all these institutions that we’re so afraid to speak against. We’re very comfortable talking about individual responsibility, but we don’t speak enough about institutional injustice.
I think it’s interesting that even though we saw what happened with our own eyes to Eric Garner, we can’t give the same consideration to Mike Brown, we can’t think that maybe something happened during that encounter. So, for me, this is about being supportive of what we see with our own eyes, but also acknowledging that what we don’t see with our own eyes also can happen. We have to start giving the victim the benefit of the doubt rather than just the institution.”
“I’m here because honestly I think these things have been going on under cover for a really long time, and I’m happy that there is more light coming to the fact that justice is not applied uniformly in our society. Police don’t see ramifications for what they’re doing. I think more awareness and more involvement from the greater public might finally get us to change some laws that would prevent things like the killing of innocent people by those who are supposed to enforce the law.”
Unlike the recent protest at Centennial High School — where a white community member drove her car into a group of students, allegedly flipping the middle finger — no violence against protesters appears to have been attempted. But the event organizers did note, only half an hour into the event, that some negative and racist comments had been made by people passing by; they encouraged protestors to not engage with such comments.
Unfortunately, as the comments sections of the News-Gazette’s recent articles on local die-in protests suggest, these comments are currently hard to avoid in Champaign-Urbana.
Photos courtesy of Sam Logan.