The sound of silence

Some stay home, others rally against killings of blacks by cops

More than 300 people participate in a rally on Chico State’s campus to denounce the killing of black Americans by law enforcement officers.

More than 300 people participate in a rally on Chico State’s campus to denounce the killing of black Americans by law enforcement officers.

Photo courtesy of Robert Morton

A portion of Chico State’s black community—students, faculty and staff—protested recent police killings and other racial injustices by staying home on Monday (Sept. 26), while others expressed their shared discontent by showing up and rallying.

Those who stayed home were participating in a national action called for earlier this month by actor Isaiah Washington and documentarian/activist Madelon “Blue” McCullough called #StayAtHomeSeptember26. A dramatic rally, in which more than 300 members of the campus community locked arms or held hands and stood silent for 10 minutes, occurred at about noon that day at Trinity Commons.

“We … stand in solidarity [with those] who are attempting to make sense of the continued slaughter of our brothers and sisters in acts of violence by police, the repeated denial of due process to black citizens, even when the body cam is on, and the systemic silencing of our voices of protest,” reads an email dispatched by the university’s Black Faculty and Staff Association on Friday (Sept. 23). “These issues and others have left some of us within our community feeling as though our voices, experiences, and lives do not matter. Thus, in an act of self-care, self-awareness, and self-preservation, we will participate in #StayAtHomeSeptember26.”

Egypt Howard, an assistant program coordinator at the university’s Cross-Cultural Leadership Center (CCLC), said she organized the rally to allow people who couldn’t miss work or school to participate on campus. The intent of the national action, she said, was to show how much blacks contribute to the economy and what communities would look like without them. The sit-out also made a symbolic statement: “Oftentimes, we feel our voices are not being heard, so by taking our bodies out of the picture, our absence can speak for some of our frustrations and feelings toward racial issues right now,” Howard said Tuesday.

Another event, organized by the school’s Black Student Union—a candlelight vigil sparked by the Sept. 20 shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by police officers in Charlotte, N.C.—was scheduled for Wednesday night, after press time. According to The Guardian’s national database of police shootings, Scott was the 194th black man—and 790th person—killed by officers so far this year. A similar Internet database called Killed by Police lists that total as 844 deaths.

Howard said the rally was also for “allies” of all races who wanted to show their support for the black campus community. She said she was inundated with messages from people who wanted to be involved after the announcement from the Black Faculty and Staff Association that its members would participate in the stay-home effort.

“The turnout was amazing, considering it all came together in three days,” she said, noting the only negative feedback she was aware of was a single Facebook post that has since been deleted by the user who posted it. “It was from someone who felt we were being more divisive than unifying … but I honestly feel the rally was very unifying. There were no negative messages, no violence and nobody was being targeted specifically. It wasn’t about one incident, but about how our community fits into the larger community here.”

Tray Robinson, director of the school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said he was impressed by the level of participation in the rally and sit-out: “It was very evident what we accomplished,” he said. “It brought unity to the campus and allowed folks who are directly affected [by racial issues] to see support from their allies, the administration and the community.”

Robinson said he encouraged faculty who did show up on Monday to incorporate conversations about race relations into their curriculum, and that he hopes faculty will continue to do so. On a related note, English Department Chair Tracy Butts is recruiting colleagues to conduct a series of “teach-ins” focusing on black issues. The events will be open to the public, held in the school’s new Arts & Humanities Building, and could begin as early as Oct. 10.

Though there have been no high-profile incidents of police-on-black violence in the North State, Howard said there are local race-related problems that need to be addressed, both on and off campus. She pointed to low black enrollment at Chico State as an example. In the fall of 2015, black students accounted for 2.3 percent of the student body, compared with a state average of 4.3 percent, according to Chico State and the California State University system. The National Center for Education Statistics said blacks accounted for 14.5 percent of college students nationally in 2014.

Howard also said that students regularly report more personal instances of racism to her.

“I think many students here deal with direct and indirect microaggressions on a daily basis and deal with more serious incidents here and there,” she said. “A lot of students tell me they get things thrown at them or someone will yell the N-word while they’re walking down the street. I love Chico a lot and it’s not as bad as some places, but there are definitely moments when I wonder, ‘Am I safe here? Do people value my life?’”