According to a running database kept by The Guardian, the amount of Americans killed by law enforcement in 2015 is now more than 1,000. Black people have died in altercations with police at a level disproportionate to population demographics, leading to the creation of activist movements following several high-profile cases.
Born amidst the protests sparked over the shooting of Trayvon Martin and death of Freddie Gray in police custody, Black Lives Matter is described as “a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.” One student organization at MSU, the Black Student Alliance (BSA), has been active in holding rallies, organizing events, staging protests and advocating for the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Standing in Solidarity
Activists at MSU once again organized when black students at University of Missouri began protesting after Jonathan Butler, a student activist, started a hunger strike with the goal of removing then-president Tim Wolfe from office, claiming racism on the campus has led to an atmosphere where black students felt unwelcome. Wolfe resigned when several members of the football team joined in the subsequent boycott, refusing to play until he was ousted.
“This could easily be us, at our campus at Michigan State, in the same predicament as Mizzou,” interior design senior Tierra Nelson said at the Rock painting. “I would like to see that the administration at MSU has a plan in effect to counteract those type of things, so we don’t have to go through the whole same racial discrimination that they’re going through, and being afraid to go to class.”
MSU administration held a dialogue regarding the protests, attempting to answer student concerns. Many, however, weren’t satisfied with President Lou Anna K. Simon’s answers, and marched to the Rock on Farm Lane to rally in support of institutional change at MSU.
“I feel like I am one of the protesters at Mizzou,” said Danielle El-Amin, a political theory and constitutional democracy junior and president of the W.E.B. Du Bois Student Society, a black student advocacy group within James Madison residential college. “Their issues, their fight, everything that they go through is everything that I go through at MSU.”
Discrimination on campus
One such instance of prejudice contributed to recently rising tensions on MSU’s campus was one involving mechanical engineering sophomore Ashley Carr. After arriving home from the Million Man March on Oct. 11, Carr learned that over the weekend, an individual wrote the word “n----” on her whiteboard attached to her door.
“(The RAs on duty) were contemplating if they wanted to call the police or not,” Carr said. “They asked me if I felt safe — No, I don’t feel safe. They asked, why don’t you feel safe? I don’t feel safe because somebody wrote n---- on my door — if they feel comfortable doing that, they can come in and do anything.”
Carr said the police arrived and began to ask her more questions as to why she did not feel safe.
“I explained to them that this is serious and I want the same thing to happen if I was to write cracker, white, something on somebody’s door,” Carr said. “I want the same actions to be taken upon me because this is serious and I don’t feel like that’s right. Racism and racial slurs, it’s wrong.”
Carr said the RAs asked her if she wanted to move to another dorm either permanently or temporarily, where she might have felt safer.
“If you move me temporarily, when I come back, what’s gonna happen?” Carr said. “No I don’t want to move permanently. If I move permanently, it could happen there, or it might keep happening. I’m not moving at all — I understand the gesture, it’s protocol for them to ask you if you want to move but, I feel like they should reword that.”
Police took Carr and her roommate’s fingerprints, the board, and the marker to see if they could find anything on the items. Carr said she was made aware it could take longer for the results of the fingerprint analysis to come back, if any, because her crime is a lesser crime.
“I emailed Paulette Granberry Russell (Director of the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives), she was very angry about it and told me she would contact RHS and see how it is being handled,” Carr said.
Carr’s floor ended up holding a meeting about racial infractions.
“If someone was to come in my room and steal my wallet, everybody would get an email, a phone call, and a text message,” Carr said. “But someone wrote a racial slur on my door and it’s not seen as serious, so nobody even heard about it.”
Changes in administration
In addition to the BSA, several other groups are committed to fighting racism on MSU’s campus and eliminating experiences like Carr’s. One such group is People’s Advocates, located in Lansing and led by Paul Birdsong, who was present at both of last week’s events
“If a black kid writes ‘honkey’ on a white kid’s door, that black kid is getting adult charges, he’s getting a criminal record, he’s going to jail, he’s getting a fine, restitution, community service and probably probation, not just scholastic probation, but he’s probably gonna get probation with the State of Michigan,” Birdsong said.
Birdsong said he has been stopped by police and asked for his ID six to seven times this year, despite wearing a three-piece suit on a daily basis.
“I think they’re maybe looking for a reaction and then they can react violently to us because of how we react as a people,” Birdsong said about the recent prevalence of race-related crimes.
“If I could say anything about that, I would tell everybody to use their brain and to focus on the goal at hand as opposed to what’s happening,” Birdsong said. “You’ll be greater in the force to change what’s happening using you brain than you will be reacting violently.”
“Hopefully MSU doesn’t have to get the point where we are calling for the resignation of President Simon,” El-Amin said. “But I can look around and I see our student body, and I recognize in myself and other student activists on campus, that we are willing to take it there if need be. If MSU needs to become the next Mizzou, then we have no problem taking those next steps.”