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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Black Lives Matter: Then and there, here and now

LUCY KNOWLES / AGGIE
LUCY KNOWLES / AGGIE

The Black Lives Matter movement’s evolution, adaptation and growth within the Davis community

Community is generally defined as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.” But as of late, the UC Davis community has fallen victim to several troubling and violent events, causing some students to question the strength of their community.

The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2012 following the death of African American 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. In the following years, the deaths of hundreds of Black americans — including Michael Brown and Eric Garner, whose deaths drew national attention — have fueled and strengthened the movement for social progress against the institutional and social anti-Black behaviors that continually occur throughout the nation.

“What inspired people was police brutality, but it was a revitalization of civil rights,” said Kyla Burke, a fifth-year environmental science and management major and co-founder and organizer for Davis Stands with Ferguson. “It’s much more than that and about how they are dispositionally seen because of society. If you want to tackle police you have to tackle white supremacy, microaggression and challenging anti-Blackness as a whole.”

Although Black Lives Matter is a widespread national movement, its power can be felt even in small college towns, like Davis. Davis Stands with Ferguson came about as a local group voicing their support and solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Following a Ferguson solidarity protest on-campus last Fall, the group has met to discuss racial and ethical concerns, and works together with the Davis community to combat anti-Black sentiments and forms of racism in the country that exist today.

“Many of us learned about organizing because we were drawn into this,” said Brandon Buchanan, a fourth-year sociology graduate student and co-founder and organizer for Davis Stands with Ferguson. “We had a conviction to address anti-Blackness on campus. It’s been a really exciting past few years.”

Since then, the movement has progressed and adapted to address current issues which involve not only racism in the face of police violence, but also anti-Black sentiments and racism seen in various factions of society. The group takes action against these broader issues in the hopes of creating change that will last for generations to come.

“It’s become much broader, less reactionary […] and more proactive in getting involved with Black Lives Matter activists, and challenging racism in all kinds of directions,” Burke said. “The single overarching thing is broadening the movement and challenging anti-Black racism on different levels.”

According to Buchanan, Davis Stands with Ferguson’s strategies have evolved from reactionary to focusing on how to address institutional racism present in the minds of many students on campus.

“We realized that only reacting to incidents as they came up wasn’t addressing the long-term structural problems that were present on campus,” Buchanan said.  “There would always be someone new to mourn, but what we needed to do was preempt that mourning by addressing systems and structures that made them vulnerable in the first place.”

One example is the U.S. private prison system. The group has worked with ASUCD on private prison divestments through Resolution 14, their largest effort to combat the prison-industrial complex. The resolution passed late February with an 11-0-1 vote, and urged the Board of Regents to practice social responsibility when divesting from corporations that are directly or indirectly involved with the private prison industry.

The resolution was in response to reports of $25 million investments in private prisons as well as an additional $425 million by the University of California (UC), all of which fall under the category of the for-profit industry of mass incarceration, a system in which racial disparities are prominent. Although African Americans and Hispanics make up only one quarter of the U.S. population, African Americans now constitute one million of the 2.3 million incarcerated population, and when combined with the Hispanic population, they total 58 percent of prisoners in 2008.

In addition, African Americans are imprisoned at ten times the rate of whites for drug offenses, and serve just as much time in prison for minor drug offenses (58.7 percent) as whites for a violent offense (61.7 percent).

The most notable recent development, however, is the introduction of the movement “#BlackUnderAttack” last month. During the past few weeks, the movement caught the attention of community members in their efforts to combat anti-Black feelings pervading not only Davis, but extending outward. The group was founded following the assault of a female African American student in West Village in February.

“After the hate crime happened, there was an email outlining what occurred vaguely,” said Kelechi Ohiri, a second-year textiles and clothing major and media strategist for Black Under Attack. “The next day we wondered what we were going to do and the term that came up was anti-Blackness. We’ve all experienced it to some degree and this was the final straw. It’s our response to the anti-Black climate not at UC Davis, but the institution in general.”

On Feb. 23, just after the West Village attack, a 32 year-old Ethiopian male was attacked by a white male. The assault occurred at the Amtrak station, where the man was kicked relentlessly, verbally harassed and fell onto a concrete bench, sustaining injuries.

“It was very unexpected and more than anything [we] just [felt] sadness,” Ohiri said. “People were just thinking ‘are you kidding,’ and as much as it becomes a problem, there’s still that feeling of thinking there are good people in the world — we hope it won’t happen, but to see it happen is disheartening and angering. I still don’t think we know wholeheartedly how to feel, but that’s why we started the movement.”

What makes Black Under Attack especially unique is the emphasis that is put on communal support. Members focus specifically on healing and working together to ensure that every Black student feels secure in Davis.

“We’ve really learned the power of community and taking time to heal,” Ohiri said. “In between sessions we’ve taken time to listen to each other. We don’t prioritize healing because we’re [so often] focused on fighting. But healing is just as important as fighting, and by taking time to talk about these problems we’re dealing with, we grow a lot.”

Students have created community support by accompanying their peers from class to class, and offering rides or one’s company to feel safe.

It is unquestionable that the events unfolding not only in Davis, but also on a national level, are tragic; to groups such as Davis Stands with Ferguson, they mean a call to action.

Yet despite every barrier, the Black community’s solidarity remains just as strong as ever. According to Buchanan, there is always something new to learn through listening to students’ stories.

“I’m looking forward to the future, but as we mobilize, there are dangers ahead,” Buchanan said. “Dangers from institutional co-optation [and] dangers as Black students fight to get their experiences recognized. When Black students organize, that’s when white supremacy feels their institutional privileges are contested and they have things to lose.”

For Burke, hope is not a question — it is a necessity.

“To be an activist you have to be hopeful,” Burke said. “Because if I don’t think things can change, why am I putting my efforts to change them?”
Written by: Alan Castillo — features@theaggie.org

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