Student groups stage ‘die-in’ demonstration
Emily McConville | Wednesday, December 10, 2014
As part of a series of protests this week against police brutality and racial injustice, Notre Dame students staged a “die-in” between O’Shaughnessy and DeBartolo Halls at 12:15 Tuesday, lying down on the sidewalk as students in both buildings changed classes.The die-in was part of the All Lives Matter Week to End Racial Injustice organized by the Notre Dame National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Latino Student Alliance (LSA), the Black Law Student Association (BLSA), the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) and students in the Masters in Peace Studies program. The events also include a prayer service, another die-in, a roundtable discussion and a public display.
The demonstrations come most directly in response to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The week before Thanksgiving break, protests erupted across the country after a grand jury decided not indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer who fatally shot Brown, an unarmed black man, in August in Ferguson, Missouri.
Two weeks after the decision in Wilson’s case, more protests broke out when a Staten Island grand jury also did not indict Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer implicated in Garner’s death in July. While a group of officers tried to arrest Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes, Pantaleo put him in a fatal chokehold.
In response to these events, NAACP Notre Dame president and senior Niciah Petrovic said she invited representatives of several campus organizations to join a planning committee last week.
“We wanted to make sure we gave as many people as possible the opportunity to shape what this week would look like,” she said.
Sophomore Xitlaly Estrada, LSA’s social justice chair, said the purpose of the week is to start conversation about the institutional nature of police brutality.
“My goals are not just to spread awareness about police brutality and its victims but also about the underlying factor behind many of these injustices,” she said. “I’d hope that after this week more people will be willing to realize that we don’t live in a post-racial society, but we must openly act to combat racism, prejudices and systematic injustices so that one day we might.”
Petrovic said the events are also meant to address backlash among Notre Dame students against the national protests.
“We have classmates of ours, peers of ours, people that we live in dorms with and eat with telling us that this isn’t an issue, or you guys make everything about race, or even a lot of hateful and hurtful things have been said,” she said. “We have to take the time to, one, make space to engage in our feelings about this and, two, to bring into the conversation people who may just not be enlightened about what these issues are and how they’re complicit in them.”
Petrovic said the planning committee decided with a vote to organize the week using the title “All Lives Matter,” instead of “Black Lives Matter,” which is more commonly used nationally, in order to be inclusive of all allies of the movement.
All Lives Matter Week began Sunday afternoon at the Grotto, where organizers handed out copies of the Yale Law School BLSA’s statement denouncing the Ferguson grand jury decision and asked for 4.5 minutes of silence, symbolizing the 4.5 hours Brown’s body was left in the street after he died. Petrovic said the group walked to Ryan Hall for a prayer service afterwards.“[We prayed for] the healing of our community as a whole,” Petrovic said. “We wanted to recognize and mourn that loss and the sense of un-safety that a lot of us are feeling.”
On Monday, the group set up rides to a die-in and demonstration at the South Bend City Council building, organized by local rapper “Blu” Casey, special education teacher Regina Williams and Gladys Muhammad, associate director of the South Bend Heritage Foundation. Petrovic estimated 25 Notre Dame students attended. She said the group joined with the community organizers in order to show solidarity with South Bend.
“When there’s no community solidarity, you can’t take solid action and meet the problems that are going on,” Petrovic said. “There’s long been a chasm between the Notre Dame community and the South Bend community, so we want to dissolve that chasm.”
Small-group discussions in which community members developed action plans followed the die-in at the City Council building, which also lasted 4.5 minutes. Sophomore Jourdyhn Williams, Notre Dame NAACP’s Diversity Council representative, attended the South Bend and Notre Dame die-ins and said her group discussed resurrecting the “I, Too, Am Notre Dame” photo project.
“Our group mostly consisted of Notre Dame students,” Williams said. “Our biggest issue was trying to bridge the gap between Notre Dame students and the South Bend community because on campus a lot of people say we’re in our own bubble.
“Basically one of the things we proposed was bringing back the photo project that was started last year by a student who graduated that was called ‘I, Too Am Notre Dame.’”
Williams said she was glad her community was able to demonstrate in a constructive way.
“I was obviously hurt by the [Ferguson and Staten Island] decisions,” she said. “It makes me sad to see things that are going on across the country. The protests — people breaking into things, tearing up the city — I also don’t think that’s the response that people should take because if we want to be treated as equals, we can’t be going around tearing up property and want equality or want justice, because we’re falling into the trap that they’re setting for us.”
Tuesday’s Notre Dame die-in lasted 11 minutes, symbolizing the 11 times Garner said, “I can’t breathe” before he died. Junior Alex Rice, president of the Africana Studies Club, said she was struck by the number and diversity of people who attended.
“It was a large group, and not just large, the makeup of the crowd was very diverse,” Rice said. “You had faculty, you had administrators — some of them I’d never seen but they came out in support. I just hope that community feels empowered to keep meeting, keep doing things. I know it’s kind of hard because we are leaving in a week, but I hope we still hear that same kind of fervor and excitement and involvement into next semester.”
Wednesday, a dinner and discussion session will take place at Legends at 7:30. Petrovic said the event will be a way to plan for the future.
“We’re going to come out of it with an action plan going into next semester, of what we’re going to do to keep these conversations going,” Petrovic said. “How do we want to keep raising awareness and keep getting people to engage in these conversations that they wouldn’t necessarily?”
Petrovic said the event will also be an opportunity for people who disagreed with the demonstrations to join the discussion.
“We really want our non-sympathizers to come out,” she said. “We don’t want them to stay silent or feel like we don’t want to engage with them because we do.”
Thursday, the organizers plan to set up a display between DeBartolo and O’Shaughnessy Halls.
Kathryn Lance, a PhD student in the Peace Studies Program, said the week is a way for students to take action in the context of their own environment.
“Taking part in actions such as those being coordinated on campus this week and hopefully in the upcoming semester help people to feel less hopeless and defeated and may even make them feel more empowered,” she said. “It is a way for us as single individuals to tap into a wider, nationwide movement that is standing up, speaking out and demanding change.”
Petrovic said she heard racial slurs and curse words during Tuesday’s die-in and saw negative comments on social media sites such as Yik Yak, but she was encouraged by the numbers and diversity of the demonstrators.
“We want to make sure, when things like this happen, we feel a sense of community that shows that not just black people are concerned about this,” Petrovic said. “It’s not just Latinos who are concerned about this. If you look at the die-in earlier, there were way more white people than black people.
“That gives us in the black community and Latino community a sense of comfort and solidarity in knowing that we’re not the only ones who care about our lives. We’re not the only ones who feel a sense of loss or a sense of grieving when things like this happen.”