By Gabby Areas and Pamela Avila
Last Friday, student demonstrators lay on the ground in Quarry Plaza for four and a half hours — the amount of time Michael Brown was left on the street after being shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson — to protest the systematic killings of black people in the U.S.
UC Santa Cruz’s African/Black Student Alliance (A/BSA) organized the “die-in” to reignite the conversation about institutional racism across the campus, which, as of 2013, has a population of 3.7 percent African American or black students. Co-chair for A/BSA Lisa Washington said the #BlackLivesMatter movement is about humanization and showing the campus what the black population is feeling.
“I don’t want to explain my being and justify my being, my existence, period,” Washington said. “So just knowing that outside of me identifying as African-American and black, I’m a human being. My life matters just as much as the next person’s. We’re tired of losing our black brothers and sisters.”
Ten days after the decision by a Missouri grand jury to not indict Officer Wilson in the killing of Brown, a grand jury in New York ruled to not indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the killing of Eric Garner. Garner, an African American man, was put in a chokehold by Pantaleo and died as a result.
In 1993, the New York City Police Department banned the use of chokeholds — a restraining maneuver that cuts off the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain — in part as a response to the 1991 officer-involved killing of 21-year-old Queens resident Federico Pereira, labeled by the NYC medical examiners as “traumatic asphyxia.”
During the A/BSA “die-in” demonstration at the Quarry Plaza, students re-enacted the deaths of specific victims every 30 minutes. The event was two-pronged, meant to both garner the attention of passersby and to hold a mirror to the culture of violence perpetrated against African American and black citizens across the country.
“A die-in is a powerful move,” said feminist studies graduate student Tommi Hayes. “It’s a powerful way to bring awareness because you can try to avoid it, but you can’t avoid seeing the bodies and making the connection to death — and black death — and in this case, the murder of black bodies.”
Four songs played throughout the four and a half hours of the “die-in,” songs released during different time periods but all carrying a common message: African American and black communities must keep combating the struggles they face on a daily basis in any way they can.
Third-year Ciera-Jevae Gordon said seeing people walk through the demonstration while other student participants were crying made her feel like “[African Americans] don’t exist to this society — to this university — and … it needs to be changed.”
“I have a nephew who is one. I have a godson who is one. I have a cousin who is about to be 21. I have a brother who is 26. I have uncles. I have other brothers,” Gordon said. “I have black men in my life that I need and I know that any day they could die, and people don’t understand that.”
Second-year Adora McQuinn said death is a part of her life on a daily basis back home in Oakland, but that it is difficult for people who do not experience that to understand. When she goes home she has to ask herself, “Was that a shotgun? Was that my brother? He just left the house.”
“As long as black people are dying here around us, when we go back to our homes, we’re still going to fight for it,” McQuinn said. “We’re tired. We’re really just tired.”