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Black People United holds Black Lives Matter rally

Last week Alfred Olango, a black man who was unarmed and apparently having a seizure was shot and killed by police in San Diego. Two weeks ago black men were killed by police in both Tulsa and Charlotte. Last month a 19-year-old black man was allegedly run down by white supremacists in Gresham. He died several days later from injuries sustained during the attack, and the suspects are now facing hate crime charges. These occurrences have been happening more and more in the past few years, and as a show of solidarity the Black People United group at Washington State University Vancouver organized a March for Racial Justice last week.

Jose Scott, the vice president of Black People United, began the event by saying that the first Black Lives rally was held in that spot two years ago. “Here we are again. Exclaiming what should be accepted as truth . . . that black lives really do matter.” Scott said that they were there to recognize the importance of black lives. They also gathered to remember those who had been killed, mostly by “the hands of those who swore to protect and serve them,” Scott said.

“Forty-one percent of unarmed people shot by law enforcement officers over the past two years were black, even though we only make up 14 percent of the population,” Scott said. He spoke of the grief, anger and pain felt by those in the community when lives are lost, and of the fear “that we could be next.”

Jose Scott opening the event. Photo credit: Auz Burger

Jose Scott opening the event.
Photo credit: Auz Burger

Next Sky Wilson, an English professor at WSU Vancouver, spoke on the subject. Wilson said that “we need to challenge our institutions to create a future for all of our communities. One in which ‘Black Lives Matter’ isn’t just a banner, but continues to be a movement that grows into a systemic reality.”

Sky Wilson during his speech. Photo credit: Auz Burger

Sky Wilson during his speech.
Photo credit: Auz Burger

Jasmine Rucker, the president of Black People United, read the names of 19 people whose lives that have recently been lost in officer involved shootings, one of whom was only 13 years old. She pointed out that these people will not receive the justice they are owed, that the people who took their lives are unlikely to be held accountable. “These lives are taken and then turned into hashtags,” Rucker said. Rucker then asked everyone who was willing and able to take a knee in a moment of silence to commemorate those lives.

Jasmine Rucker reading the names. Photo credit: Auz Burger

Jasmine Rucker reading the names.
Photo credit: Auz Burger

Following Rucker’s moment of silence, Airriana Jasper, the director of public relations at Black People United, shared a poem called “Birth of the Justice Fire.” Jasper’s poem addressed fears in the black community of being the next fatality. “So cautiously I watch my back as I walk, drive, read a book with my hands in the air,” Jasper read, before concluding with “Run[ning] away with my hands in the air.”

“My people are lifeless due to excessive authority,” Jasper continued, asking “How can you justify racism daily, but can’t justify the genocide of my race daily?” Her poem closed with, “My hands in the air signify that I am a prisoner. / And I am breaking out.” By the close of Jasper’s poem a wide array of onlookers had their hands in the air and displayed clear emotional unrest.

Airriana Jasper sharing her poem. Photo credit: Auz Burger

Airriana Jasper sharing her poem.
Photo credit: Auz Burger

ASWSUV President Skye Troy was the final speaker at the event, who said after introducing herself that “you can just call me an ally. This what I strive to be.” Troy had been asked to speak to the crowd as an ally, to remind everyone that “There are allies, we are here and we are going to stand with you and build a stronger community together.”

Her voice filled with emotion as Troy began to share a poem written by an eighth grader from Atlanta named Royce Mann. The poem, entitled “White Boy Privilege” addressed issues of inequality and privilege, as well as the author’s views of what should be done to address these topics.

Skye Troy sharing a poem by Royce Mann. Photo credit: Auz Burger

Skye Troy sharing a poem by Royce Mann.
Photo credit: Auz Burger

Once Troy finished sharing the poem, everyone gathered to march from the library to the Diversity Center. Chanting rang out across campus, “justice for black lives!” Then everyone gathered in the Diversity Center for a community discussion.

Those assembled discussed how recent events have affected everyone, with many people saying it was overwhelming, exhausting and tempting to just disengage from the discourse. Many attendees spoke of their fears that they could be next, and stressed how easily it could have been them in the recent shootings. They also discussed how they see anti-black racism within their communities, what methods should be used to address this racism, and what kinds of barriers are faced in “breaking the silence about racism in white communities.”

For more information about Black People United, visit their CougSync page or email van.club.bpu@wsu.edu. “Everyone is welcome to our club, whether you’re an ally, African or African American,” Rucker said.

During the moment of silence.  Photo credit: Auz Burger

During the moment of silence.
Photo credit: Auz Burger

Hands raised during Jasper's poem. Photo credit: Auz Burger

Hands raised during Jasper’s poem.
Photo credit: Auz Burger

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