Four-and-a-half minutes of silence blanketed the HUB this afternoon to symbolize the four-and-a-half hours 18-year-old Michael Brown’s body laid in the street after he was shot by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri.
Protesters crammed into the small space, shouting angrily “black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace,” calling for justice in the killing of Brown in August.
Kent State’s Black United Students led a group of students on Tuesday in protest of a grand jury decision to not indict Wilson in the August shooting and killing of 18-year-old Brown. The protest started in the Student Center, where BUS moved out of its offices, and proceeded to Oscar Ritchie Hall.
Protesters then moved to the rock on front campus and painted it black. Next, they headed to Kent City Police Department, where they held a peaceful demonstration, before heading back to campus.
Word of the protest — planned late Monday after the decision was announced — spread via social media and word of mouth. At 12:30 p.m. in the Student Center, protesters, many dressed in all black, held up signs that read “Black lives matter.” BUS members instructed participants to fill the empty seats of the Hub after one protester spoke about racism.
"This is a movement right now,” said Matthew Thompson, president of Black United Students. “Be a part of it or get out of the way.”
The hub of a protest
Integrative studies major Jordan Kibler isn’t normally one to speak out in front of a group of people. The self-proclaimed “quiet person” said he normally sits at the back of the room in classes.
But when Kibler didn’t see anyone stepping up to call out injustice, the reserved fifth-year senior spoke up.
“It takes a lot to get me to the tipping point, but it’s just too much at this point,” Kibler said. “I just felt as though if nobody else was going to step up to the plate, why not me? Somebody has to stir the pot. Nothing lives in stagnant water.”
It was Kibler who stood in front of a group of approximately 200 protesters and told the crowd in the Hub, “We’ve been putting up with this shit for too long. Black lives matter.”
Kibler was one of a few students to raise their voice for the cause.
After Kibler’s speech, the protesters dispersed amongst the tables in the Hub. Holding up signs with a variety of different messages, many sat in silence beside complete strangers or tried to spark conversation related to the Ferguson ruling. The four-and-a-half minutes of silence followed.
“We got organized, which is what we needed,” Kibler said. “Some people probably felt really uncomfortable about (the protest), but that’s good. I need you to feel uncomfortable right now.”
Not all students who had been sitting in the Student Center already seemed interested in the protest, however.
Senior digital media productions major Bobby Marinelli said he understands being upset about something, but there’s a way to respectfully go about expressing those emotions.
“I understand it’s a student center, and you want the student body to hear,” Marinelli said. “But you don’t need to just scream at people. If you want to get your point across and show people you’re upset, then do it respectfully.”
While members of BUS organized the protest, non-members joined as well, including Kent State staff member Bill Austin, who preferred to not give his department. Austin said he related to Brown’s mother, as he himself lost a child and didn’t receive any justice: Ten years ago, a drunk driver — and repeat offender — killed his daughter and went uncharged.
“I don’t want my children to feel afraid because someone else is in a poorer situation than I am,” Austin said. “You’ve got to fight for equality.”
Going back home
After the moment of silence, Thompson told the crowd that they were moving the BUS offices from the Student Center to Oscar Ritchie Hall, which he said he believed is “where they are supposed to be” and where the BUS offices were originally when the organization began at Kent State.
Mamadou Ndiaye, vice president of Black United Students, said BUS no longer felt comfortable in the Student Center.
"We want to reclaim what is ours in Oscar Ritchie because we just don’t feel comfortable with the system that is in place,” Ndiaye said. “So we want to reclaim Oscar Ritchie and just increase our presence within the campus community.”
Around 1:15 p.m., BUS members emptied the office and carried its contents, including signs, cardboard boxes full of plaques and bags of office supplies, to Oscar Ritchie Hall.
More than 200 students, led byMarvin Logan, executive director of Undergraduate Student Government, marched through campus.
Iniah Dunbar, a freshman athletic training major present in the Hub at the start of the protest, said she felt the protest was much needed.
“We are just trying to show that we want change and that we are trying to affect the change that we want to see in the world and on our campus,” Dunbar said. “This isn’t just a black and white thing. This is a people thing, and it needs to be known. It’s a human thing.”
On the way to Oscar Ritchie Hall, the crowd blocked traffic on Terrace Drive.
Once it arrived at Oscar Ritchie, the crowd crammed into the building just inside the doors under the balcony where senior psychology major Autumn Talley continued rallying the students. Talley is a member of the student organization Focus on the Future.
“We need to establish our own,” she said. “We need to depend on each other. We need to love each other, because it’s been made clear that they don’t like us, they don’t love us. Our ancestors built this damn world, and they still have the nerve to look at us as if we are insignificant, as if we don’t hold weight here. I don’t know about you but I hold weight! I’m important! My child is important! Everybody out here is important! And why are we doing this?! Because I love every last one of y’all, and I’m willing to fight for you!”
Leaving a message
Around 1:30 p.m., the crowd walked to the rock on front campus, continuing to chant, “black lives matter,” “no justice, no peace” and “hands up, don’t shoot.”
Some students spraypainted the rock black. Others performed spoken-word pieces condemning racism.
Members debated over what words to paint on the rock — “black lives matter,” “no justice, no peace” and “all lives matter” were considered — but in the end, it was decided to keep it simply black with no message.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom,” a female protester, who did not wish to be named, chanted at the rock. “It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Another student protester, who also did not wish to be named, referenced the recent shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice from Cleveland, who was shot and killed by a police officer who mistook an airsoft gun in his hand for a real gun.
“I am Mike Brown...I am Tamir Rice...I am every black life that has been lost at the hands of the police,” the protester said, his voice cracking as he yelled.
The group left the rock shortly before 2 p.m. and walked on the sidewalk along Main Street. Cars driving by honked their horns in support, with cheers from the crowd in response to raised fists from passing drivers.The protesters linked arms and sang “Lean on Me.”
Jennifer Newman, a senior environmental health major, saw the large crowd while in Starbucks studying for an exam. She knew the protest was related to Ferguson but did not know the details of why they were marching.
“Of course they’re protesting because it’s Kent,” she said.
Standing on prayer
Johnathon Morris, a junior biochemistry major, skipped his English class to go to the protest. He said he believed the protest was more important.
“This is a lot more serious than a schooling system supported by such a government that allows this kind of action to take place,” Morris said.
The crowd arrived at the police department around 2 p.m. and gathered in a circle outside. The members sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — which has been called the African-American national anthem — and several protesters spoke about the presence of racism in today’s society, though many wished to remain anonymous.
Participants recited the names of friends, family and others they knew who had been victims of police brutality. One protester yelled “Trayvon Martin,” referencing the 17-year-old black teenager who was killed in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.
Roslynn Porch, former president of BUS, said the community should come together to remember victims of police brutality.
“It is our time to stand up and speak out,” she said. “It is our time to come united as one.”
Porch led the group in a prayer at the end of the demonstration, asking the group to link arms.
“If you’re not for prayer, you do not have to participate, but in the black community, we stand on prayer,” she said. “This is how we get some situations, all the way back in our ancestry, we stood on prayer.”
Before the prayer, the crowd chanted, “it is our duty to fight for our freedom; it is our duty to win; we must love and support each other; we have nothing to lose but our chains.”
“We do not know why situations like this happen, oh God, but we just thank you for the situation like Mike Brown having to bring communities together, oh God,” Porch prayed. “This is what you had to do to bring communities together. We thank you Lord. We thank you for the movements that are to come, oh God. We ask that you protect our family members, our community, our churches, our friends, oh God, from any police brutality that may come, oh heavenly father. Help us to stay united, oh God.”
Robert Lierenz, director of governmental affairs for USG and a senior political science and economics major, participated in the protest and said he is devastated by the killing of Brown.
“I don’t see how I can not come to the protest, really,” he said. “My heart’s broken. How do you become a part of the healing process? You can’t take this laying down.”
No City of Kent police officers came outside of the building to acknowledge the protesters.
The group left the police department at 2:30 p.m. and marched down College Street, up the Esplanade and back to the Student Center.
The protesters dispersed soon after they returned to the Student Center, with some remaining to eat lunch.
Leia Belt, BUS director of programming, said BUS is working to give students a voice.
“I think as marginalized people and as students, we often feel as though our voice is stifled,” she said. “We often feel that we are hushed. We’re too young, or we’re pulling the race card. There is some issue with just listening to our problems and a big campaign that Black United Students wants to do this year is give students their voices back, give people their voices back.”
Hannah Armenta, Kianna Buglin and Jimmy Miller contributed to reporting.