Student protesters carrying a “Black Lives Matter!” banner led booming chants of defiance through lecture halls, dining halls and libraries last Thursday.
About 100 members and allies of the Afrikan/Black/Caribbean community at UC Santa Cruz gathered in Quarry Plaza at noon on May 2 to begin a campus walkout. Their goal was to protest the police’s targeted violence toward Black people in Santa Cruz and across the nation.
“We’re doing this [walkout] to stand up and say that we’re not okay,” said UCSC Black Student Union (BSU) Vice President Colby Riley. “We’re not okay with what’s going on, and we’re going to fight here and we’re going to fight wherever we’re at so that some change can happen.”
Sacramento State BSU members encouraged several BSUs in California universities to organize walkouts for May 2 at noon. Sacramento State’s BSU had been in communication with UCSC’s BSU since early April to assist in walkout planning.
The Stephon Clark shooting court decision last March fueled Thursday’s walkout. The two Sacramento police officers who, last year, shot and killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark — an unarmed Black man — faced no criminal charges. Police killings of Clark, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown and other Black people are the result of nationwide discrimination toward Black people.
“We’ve had loved ones taken from us. We’ve had loved ones beaten,” said BSU Vice President Colby Riley. “[This problem] isn’t abstract at all, it’s completely personal.”
May 2 has national and local significance for BSU. It marks the day in 1967 when members of the Black Panther Party marched into the California state Capitol with firearms to voice their opposition to a gun control bill. BSU organizers planned the walkout for this day to commemorate this historical Black rights protest.
The day also marks the two-year anniversary of when BSU — then known as the Afrikan/Black Student Alliance — reclaimed Kerr Hall to demand UCSC grant equal rights and benefits to its Black students.
“This is a peaceful protest,” said BSU President Shania Anderson. “Anybody who has a problem with people coming in and disrupting their classroom needs to look at the bigger picture because we are also students here [who] also go through trials and tribulations.”
Protesters met in Quarry Plaza between the two marches to join in a brief open mic session about healing the Black community and remembering Black people unjustly killed by the police.
BSU members said they feel unsafe and unwelcome at UCSC, a campus that prides itself on being progressive.
“Every time I set foot anywhere in Santa Cruz, I just have people stare at me like I’m crazy,” said Shania Anderson, “like I don’t belong here, like I’m an outsider. […] It’s overwhelming being a Black student and a Black person having to go through this wherever you go.”
Student protesters voiced the urgent need for national reforms to support all Black people across the nation. BSU members demanded the disarming and demilitarizing of the police system.
With Black Lives Matter widespread across the nation, the Black community in Santa Cruz recognizes the importance of raising awareness of how Black people are mistreated in this city.
Savannah Powell, first-year student and BSU member, said the protesters were intent on informing the campus community on how Black people feel about the everyday issues they face at the university.
“Our world is twisted,” Powell said. “But we can’t change the whole world, so we’ve got to start here.”
Students should understand that staying in class and not joining the walkout for Black people’s rights for one day is the wrong choice, Powell said. Walkout organizers wanted more bystanders to take time out of their day to support Black people.
BSU Vice President Colby Riley said the movement asked for people’s time and presence to support a community disproportionately affected by police, violence and drugs.
“As an individual, if you’re not going to do anything to help amplify someone’s voice or stand up with them, that’s complete negligence,” Riley said. “That’s like seeing a house burning down and not calling 911.”
BSU will continue to defend the rights of the Black community and other communities of color at UCSC. Catalyzing change for future generations of their community is important, said Powell.
“King didn’t do it by himself,” Powell said. “Rosa Parks and all the known activists, […] we look up to them, and we just want to do better like they did better. The generations to come after us need our help.”
Additional reporting by Thomas Sawano and CHP staff.