Students “die-in” for change

Students die-in for change

By Marissa Novel

While students returned textbooks to the bookstore, stopped by Starbucks for their mid-afternoon pick-me-up or by McDonald’s for lunch, they could have ran into something out of the ordinary Tuesday.

They may have heard Tupac’s “Changes” blasted higher than the typical easy-listening Student Center music, and may have seen a fellow Saluki sobbing while in the embrace of a faculty member.

More specifically, they may have tripped over the bodies of students and people who were sprawled across the floor, some holding signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe” and “Stop Killing Kids.”


More than 70 people sat on and were sprawled across the floor in the Student Center Tuesday for a “die-in” to protest the separate decisions to not indict two white police officers, who each killed an unarmed black man earlier this year.

Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department was not indicted by a grand jury Nov. 24 for the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Daniel Pantaleo of the New York City Police Department was not indicted by a grand jury Dec. 3 for the July 17 killing of 44-year-old Eric Garner with a chokehold, a method deemed illegal by NYPD.

“I don’t mean shutting down McDonald’s and I don’t mean shutting down Starbucks, it’s a metaphor,” Ben Smith, organizer of the event, said to protesters. “What we’re shutting down is this racist s—.”

Smith, a senior from Chicago studying communication, said he spoke to protesters to inspire them and release some of his own frustrations.

“It was therapeutic,” he said.

After speaking, Smith urged demonstrators to give him their contact information so he could contact them personally to organize more protests.

“I’m serious about change,” he said.


The Rev. Joseph Brown spoke to demonstrators after Smith.

“Be rooted,” said Brown, a professor in the Department of Africana Studies. “Be the tree that protects and the tree that gives us direction and nourishment and hope in the middle of the storm. You are the blessing we have been praying for. Don’t forget where you came from.”

Brown said more than one person asked him to speak at the protest, and he obliged to show his support.

“I never want young people to think their elders don’t care or don’t approve,” he said. “They need to know the oldest people on the block are with them.”

President Randy Dunn also appeared at the demonstration to show his support.

“It goes to show that our university is alive and well,” he said.

Byron “B.Rael” Ali, a senior from Chicago studying painting, performed an original poem inspired by a faculty member’s film, “778 Bullets,” which is about police clashing with university students suspected of Black Panther affiliation.

“It still resonates and it fit with the energy here now because the message is power to the people,” Ali said.

Ali said he was one of seven participants in a separate die-in on Nov. 25 at the same location. He said he is satisfied with the attendance at the second demonstration.

“It shows that people care and it gives reason to our drive,” he said.

Kendall Warr, a senior from Chicago studying criminal justice, said based on the student body, there should have been a larger outcome. He said though this was his first protest, those who are silent have chosen a side of injustice by default.

“I was kind of scared at first, but for me this is my reality,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I step up? That’s my duty as a black man in college.”

Warr said he was also involved in the demonstration to set a good example for his children if they were to ask about where he was during this time.

“I want them to look at me and be like, ‘I’m going to be like my father. I’m going to stand for something,'” he said.

Other faculty members were also present at the demonstration.

“It’s not the country I should have grown up in,” said Douglas Anderson, a professor in philosophy. “If these were the children of white folks like me, there’d be a lot more people out here protesting.”

Anderson said his race does not obstruct his ability to sympathize with unarmed black people who have been killed by white police officers.

“I can’t experience the kind of oppression they experience, but I can know analogically it’s wrong, and morally unacceptable,” he said.

Representatives from McDonald’s, Starbucks and Southern Illinois University Bookstore declined to comment about the demonstration.

Marissa Novel can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @marissanovelDE or at 536-3311 ext. 268.