“America is an old slaver running from his guilt,” Miona Short recited her poem in front of Abraham Lincoln’s Bascom hill statue and hundreds of students as they prepared to march into College Library to protest racial inequality.
More than 800 students and supporters came out to mark the beginning of finals week with a 30-minute moment of silence at a “die-in” demonstration. The protest began at the top of Bascom and marched through traffic down Park Street to circle back through East Campus Mall and down to Helen C. White Library.
“America, we could give a fuck about your guilt,” Short continued her poem.
Short, a University of Wisconsin sophomore in the First Wave scholarship organization said she worked in collaboration with others to help Deshawn McKinney, who spearheaded the demonstration, get the word out about the event.
The protest came in light of recent instances of police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York.
Chants of “black lives matter,” “no justice, no peace” and “hands up, don’t shoot” echoed through the streets as protesters carried signs saying “how much is a black life worth without a jersey,” “we don’t live in a post-racial society” and “stop racist police violence.”
Eric Smith, a junior at the protest, said he wanted to represent one of the faces that experiences issues in black peoples’ lives nationally, on a campus that is predominantly white.
“It’s necessary for me to come out here and show my face,” Smith said. “I hope when people see us they’ll stop and think, oh I have bio with that guy, and they’ll realize maybe this is an issue they should think about too.”
As the crowd made its way through the streets, some passersby joined in.
Brian Beal, a junior at UW, said he was on his way to the gym when he decided to join the protest.
“All of a sudden I see a large group of people walking across East Campus Mall,” Beal said. “I couldn’t see them through the fog, but I heard this roar so I leaned in and they were saying ‘hands up, don’t shoot,’ I just decided to join in.”
As students approached Helen C. White, they chanted “finals on your mind? black lives on mine” before entering the library. They filled all three floors, laying in silence.
Some students left the library in frustration as protesters arrived, “my life matters too” and “some of us are trying to study” were muttered in the spaces filled with silent protest.
Director of College Library Carrie Kruse said library administrators appreciated being made aware of the protest by university administration and UWPD prior to the event.
“We decided we wouldn’t do anything to interfere,” Kruse said. “From what I hear there wasn’t a noticeable anti-protest, that’s where things might have gotten out of hand.”
After the protest, students gathered at the Multicultural Student Center for discussion.
Lead organizer McKinney said he was proud that protesters on a predominantly white campus had the power to fill the streets for an issue of black lives. He and other organizers looked to the future to keep the activist momentum going.
“Soon as we get back, we’re gonna hit the ground running,” McKinney said.
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