Marc’s life matters
Black Lives Matter rally at Chico State focuses on the legacy of murdered student, activist
Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and Michael Brown are names that have become focal points in the national movement to shine light on police brutality, inequality in the justice system and racism in modern America. A Black Lives Matter rally scheduled for tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 26) will focus on another victim of senseless violence much closer to home—Marc Thompson.
Thompson was the 25-year-old Chico State student and activist whose body was found in his burning car off Highway 70 in September 2014. The crime remains unsolved and, since his death, local activists and Thompson’s friends and family have theorized that his murder was racially motivated.
“We want to highlight that, though there’s national issues happening around Black Lives Matter, there are also things happening in our own backyard that we’re not really talking about or paying much attention to,” said Egypt Howard, an assistant program coordinator at Chico State’s Cross-Cultural Leadership Center and the staff member overseeing Friday’s rally at Selvester’s Cafe on campus. “Marc was an advocate for social justice and I’m sure he’d also be an advocate for Black Lives Matter.”
Howard’s guess is well-founded, as she knew Thompson personally: “I first met him at a conference at Butte College several years ago, and he came into the center regularly once he transferred to Chico State,” she said. Howard noted that Thompson took part in a 10-week program she created called the Black Leadership Academy and together the two sat on the Associated Students Multicultural Affairs Council (now the Diversity Affairs Council).
Like many who knew Thompson, Howard expressed deep respect for him, and said she hopes sharing details about the young man’s life and legacy will have an impact on those who attend the rally. She said attendees will also be invited to share their own experiences and speak about national issues and how they affect their lives in Chico and those of their families in other areas.
There isn’t a formal Black Lives Matter group at Chico State, though Howard said a handful of events—such as a presentation at the CCLC about the movement’s mission and history last October—have been held on campus. The Black Lives Matter movement was co-founded in 2013 by three black community organizers—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi—in response to the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch leader who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, in Florida.
The movement spread through the use of the hashtag #blacklivesmatter on social media regarding that decision and other events, such as civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014. A formal, national organization now exists and operates a website, but the larger movement is decentralized, with many independently organized demonstrations taking up the Black Lives Matter banner.
The movement has also been targeted by some people who say it devalues the lives of those other than black victims. Howard said she’s been bombarded with such claims during the run-up to Friday’s rally.
“I’ve been getting into conversations every day, through Facebook or here at the center, and there are definitely a lot of misconceptions about what the movement stands for,” Howard said. “The biggest one is that black lives are the only ones that matter and that it doesn’t consider cops’ lives or white lives or anything else. That’s not the case, and if it was, I wouldn’t support it.”
Howard noted that blacks account for a disproportionate percentage of America’s incarcerated, and are statistically more likely to be targeted by violence at the hands of law enforcement. She also said many black victims of the criminal justice system hail from poor neighborhoods lacking education and other resources.
“There are other communities of color that are also concerned about these issues and supportive of Black Lives Matter. The movement may focus on blacks’ experiences, but the overall message is that all lives matter.”
Another point of the movement that resonates with Howard is how black victims of violence, particularly at the hands of law enforcement, are sometimes posthumously portrayed: “The victims are painted as thugs and criminals, but you have people like Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was shot and killed while playing with a toy gun in a park,” she said. “Those are the situations we can’t accept in our society.”
The Black Lives Matter rally caps a series of campus events celebrating Black History Month, which included film screenings (Beasts of No Nation on Feb. 3, Dope on Feb. 19) and a panel discussion (“I am a black, gay Christian—and I know God loves me,” on Feb. 17). “The events we schedule each year are meant not just to recognize the importance of black history, but also to bring up modern-day issues that affect members of the campus community,” said Joe Wills, director of public affairs at Chico State.
“One of our ongoing goals is to diversify our campus even more than it already is, and not just in the student body, but also among our faculty and staff. Black History Month events, and year-round events aimed at celebrating and recognizing diversity, are an important part of that.”