At 5 p.m. on Friday, Ohio University students gathered at the Athens, Ohio courthouse steps to protest the most recent publicized killing of an unarmed black man.
#ICantBreathe event began Friday morning as students carried signs with them everywhere that echoed the famous words of Eric Garner as he was choked to death by NYPD, “I can’t breathe.”
Despite cold weather and constant rain, OU students filled the courthouse steps while holding signs in support of Garner. On the courthouse steps, various protesters shared their thoughts, fears and solutions.
The protest trickled into one lane of traffic and eventually shut down traffic on Court Street. After occupying Court Street for 4 1/2 minutes, protesters then marched to Cutler Hall. A “die in” was held in Cutler Hall and protesters then silently proceeded with their hands up to Alden Library. The protest concluded with an open dialogue in Baker Center.
Senior art major, John Brown VI, who helped organize the protest, urged students to take an active role in the community at the courthouse.
“We all have something we can do. Ideally we can’t protest like this every day…I’m an artist. What do you think my artwork is about? If you write, what can you write about? If you make music, what can you make music about?” Brown said.
Theater major Shambrion Treadwell did just as Brown VI encouraged, and wrote a poem entitled, “You’re a race rat in a rat race.”
“You’re a race rat in a rat race hoping to get chased
Chasing dreams, being undermined and debased
Weake minded, blined, knowing your race and trying to hide it…”
Treadwell recited the full poem on the courthouse steps.
Senior and middle childhood language education in language arts and math and music production double major, Amber Alexander encouraged students to not be afraid to be black.
‘I am Amber Alexander, and I come from the hood, and I am ghetto, but I am smart and I am never going to stop being that person for a white person,” Alexander said.
OU student Jasmine-Renee Riley fought back tears as she expressed her fear.
“I am scared. I am so scared for the children who I don’t have, my husband who I haven’t met yet. I am scared,” Riley said.
Riley attributed her fear to her concern that no one is listening. She stated that she always seems to be talking to the same crowd about racial issues. She expressed concern that she is merely “preaching to the choir.”
Brown and several others recognized the role of whites in the movement. It was recognized among the group that as a white student the role is to become educated on the issue. Then speak to peers about it and to plant a seed to start the uncomfortable conversation.
When protestors gathered in Cutler Hall for a “die in,” students of all races lay amongst each other voicing concern.
As they lay on the floor, protesters echoed various identities:
“I am a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun,” asserted a participant.
Several claims followed:
“I am an outcast.”
“I am heartbroken.”
“I can’t breathe.”
“We can’t breathe.”
“We are tired.”
“We are change.”
As the “die in” drew to a close, students made the unanimous decision to leave their signs scattered on the floor for OU President Roderick McDavis. If they couldn’t be heard, they would be seen.
Before students continued to Alden Library, African American Studies Professor Aretina Hamilton urged students to recognize the historical relevance and relation of the movement.
“These bodies that are here, this is just like the middle passage. It’s kind of ironic, the last time that black lives actually mattered was during slavery. So keep that in mind, this may be uncomfortable, it may be an uncomfortable moment, but this is the experience of blackness,” Hamilton said.
With those words in their minds, students continued on to Alden Library in silence,and later proceeded to their final place of assembly in Baker Center.
Students gathered in a large circle on the fourth floor of Baker Center and continued to talk about problems and solutions.
The conversation came to a halt when a white male walked through the middle of the circle and made an explicit comment to protestors.
The male later returned, stopped by protestors and encouraged to share his opinion with the entire group. At that moment, he expressed his opinion, which was met by booing from the crowd. Then the male engaged in a conversation with Brown and left afterward.
Minutes later a white couple walked directly through the center of the circle, only to be stopped by protesters at the door.
The protesters demanded respect for their cause and were met with a resounding, “I don’t give a fuck” from the white female.
As the commotion settled, the dialogue continued in Baker. For over two hours, students demanded justice and were met with both support and affronts from fellow Bobcats.
Brown says several events are being planned for next year. He hopes to see younger students become active in the cause. As the fight for justice continues, black bobcats are left feeling that they can’t breathe.