By Montse Reyes and Lauren Romero
Over 100 students blocked pedestrian traffic through Quarry Plaza on Tuesday to not only protest incidents of police brutality and systematic oppression against black communities, but also to empower UC Santa Cruz’s own black community.
Demonstrators maintained the blockade for 4 1/2 hours — the amount of time Michael Brown’s body was left in the street after being shot by a Ferguson police officer.
The “Quarry Blackout,” organized by UCSC’s African/Black Student Alliance (A/BSA), is a part of a larger national movement to denounce police violence against black people.
“I’m here because I’m tired of hearing about black men, black women and black children being killed every single day,” said third-year anthropology and feminist studies major Carly Ritter. “This space provides a grieving space, but it also provides a space where we can show our anger. We can show we’re not going to be silenced anymore.”
The decision to demonstrate in Quarry Plaza was strategic, Ritter said. Close proximity to classrooms, colleges and McHenry Library increased the likelihood of exposure. Ritter said it was also to disrupt services that are normally easily accessible.
“We want to inconvenience people for them to see that we are inconvenienced all of the time,” Ritter said.
Demonstrators held signs displaying Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe” and photos of victims of police brutality — such as Tamir Rice, Troy Davis and Oscar Grant.
Students also held a black banner spanning half the length of the plaza’s main entrance with “BLACK LIFE MATTERS” written in red.
Last Friday, A/BSA held a “die-in” demonstration where students laid on the ground in Quarry Plaza for 4 1/2 hours. First-year Lina Abdelsalam said both of the events were planned to create conversations about injustice.
“We had a lot of people walking around and not understanding what the purpose of our action was, but we wanted them to see we are standing in solidarity with this issue. It’s something people should be considering globally,” Abdelsalam said.
Like the “die-in,” Tuesday’s blackout received mixed reactions from those trying to get through the space. Most students looking to gain access to the plaza understood and left, but others were frustrated and argumentative. Some managed to rush the picket line, but each time, demonstrators surrounded the students, put their arms in the air, and chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot” until the students left.
A/BSA co-chair Lisa Washington said it was important to engage in conversation with those who disagreed with the blockade.
“This was for awareness,” she said. “We weren’t trying to be in people’s space. Let me talk to you, understand our point of view. That’s all we want.”
Before the event began, organizers expressed appreciation for allies, but reminded them that the demonstration was a space for black voices.
Allies who joined in the demonstration helped build the blockades in the smaller entrances of Quarry Plaza and also helped enforce them when other people tried to push through, Washington said.
“To see our allies right there at the forefront of everything was beautiful,” Washington said. “For me to not even have to talk to the guy [that pushed through the blockade], that [demonstrators] were just screaming, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ and he just left — it was amazing. It showed how much they support and value us.”
Organizers also created an open forum within the blockade to provide space for black students to express themselves, which can be difficult on a campus where less than 2 percent of the population identifies as black.
Participants recited poetry, sang or shared personal experiences of racism and police violence. Students spoke about how they carried these experiences with them — from their communities at home to their lives at UCSC.
Second-year graduate student Crystal Nelson recognized the university’s failure to create a space for black students. Nelson said there is a lack of effort put into recruiting black professors and recruiting and retaining black students.
“That tells me they don’t care,” she said. “If they cared, their actions would be different.”
In between student testimonies, demonstrators also participated in chants that echoed off the walls of the Bay Tree Bookstore and the Student Union building. With arms linked, demonstrators repeated chants such as, “No justice, no Quarry! End of story!”
A/BSA co-chair Shadin Awad said actions and demonstrations have to be persistent for the campus community to discuss and understand the effects of racism.
“This is not going to be an isolated action. We understand police brutality and issues of white supremacy and anti-blackness aren’t going to end overnight,” Awad said. “We hope to get the conversation started, to get our campus mobilized and to let them know it impacts community members directly. It has to be a continual process if we want it to amount to anything.”