Police Brutality Protests Fizzle on Campus


(Daily Utah Chronicle File Photo)

(Daily Utah Chronicle File Photo)
(Daily Utah Chronicle File Photo)

The momentum of protests in Salt Lake City is increasing but slowing down at the U.
Three protests surrounding the police homicides of four unarmed men — Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Dillon Taylor in Salt Lake City, Darrien Hunt in Saratoga Springs and Eric Garner in New York City — happened on campus. The first was cancelled due to low turnout. The second drew nearly 70 students, and the third had about 30 participants. As finals loom, snow falls and the campus empties, turnout could return to zero. However, across the nation, activism on college campuses is heating up.
Angus Johnston, a historian of student activism at the City University of New York, was quoted in The Village Voice, a New York City tabloid, saying, “We are in a moment of an uptick of student organizing … [and] a lot of these protests fly beneath everybody’s radar, never make it into the national news and never get to people [who are] plugged into stuff on the national level.”
Johnston curated a map of 150 significant campus protests since November, and the U’s protests don’t show up anywhere.
Avisha Sabaghian, an undeclared freshman, attended the first protest at the U, which was a walkout organized for Aug. 25 — what would have been Michael Brown’s first day of college. However, it was cancelled. Sabaghian said last-minute organization caused misunderstanding, which led to a rescheduling.
“Basically, what happened was that a large number of participants were late, and so we thought we should reschedule the event so that [more] people can attend,” Sabaghian said. “Later we found out that people arrived 30 minutes late and continued with the walkout. I think it was a misunderstanding on behalf of the organizers. None of them knew how to really organize a walkout, and we didn’t take into account that people could be late.”
The group that organized the walkout never did reschedule for a later date, though.
Roger Quinonez, a senior in math education and geology, was at the second protest — a march on Dec. 1 in front of the Marriott Library. Quinonez is a member of MeCHA, a chicano/a and latino/a student group on campus. Around 1 a.m. that morning, an email was sent to members of the club alerting them to the protest. Quinonez said that the late email made the protest smaller because it disenfranchised students of color.
According to ProPublica, police homicides disproportionately affect people of color. The non-profit news source investigated nearly 12,000 police homicides and found that young black males have been 21 times more likely to be killed by police officers than their white counterparts since 1980. And these statistics are likely low — most police departments aren’t required to provide complete data on fatal police shootings.
Loren Ruiz, a junior in political science, said the problem stems from the structure of police departments.
“They are placed at the top of a legal hierarchy with morality on their side and told to punish those who break the law. That’s dangerous,” Ruiz said. “All of the assumptions they carry about what criminals look like, racist assumptions a lot of the time, affect the way they interact with people.”
Jasmine Walton, a junior in communication and president of the U’s Black Student Union, didn’t attend any of the protests on campus because of time conflicts. Walton said stopping police violence can start with universities.
“If people would just stop assuming that all people of color are the same, then maybe we could break down some of these barriers,” Walton said.
Walton said change must come from inside communities of color, which at the U are relatively small. Out of the nearly 24,000 undergraduates this semester, 322 self-reported as African American, according to the U’s Office of Budget and Institutional Analysis common data set from 2014-2015.
“I think that for change to really happen we, as people of color, need to demand change from each other because without us wanting change for ourselves we can not demand [it],” Walton said. “We have to change ourselves first, then the world will change themselves as well.”
Sabaghian said solutions should focus on giving students outlets for voicing their opinions.
“I think we need to educate people on this topic a lot more,” Sabaghian said. “It’s unfortunate that protests aren’t connected to the campus and are viewed as a separate thing. Universities are the place for discussion, and there should be a bigger campus community around social justice.”
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