Dispatch from the clock tower

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West Pine Mall, the heart of Saint Louis University, usually reflects an upbeat atmosphere. It’s where students converse with friends, head to class, or use the path as a pedestrian highway to other destinations. On Oct. 13, however, the gloomy weather reflected a community torn. Around midnight, the clock tower on West Pine hosted a nonviolent call to action regarding racial injustices and police brutality. In this demonstration, organized by grassroots civil rights organization Tribe X, implications were revealed to be deeper than the Michael Brown or Vonderrit Myers cases, as the predominately African American community surrounding SLU expressed feeling isolation and neglect.

Hours before, the Organization for Black Struggle, in cooperation with other civil rights organizations, hosted an event promoting reflection and resistance. The keynote speaker was scholar and activist Dr. Cornel West.

About halfway through, a group of young protesters, who had been out in Ferguson consistently for 65 days since the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, voiced their frustrations. They argued that it would not do to sit around and talk about the occurrences: people needed to mobilize in the streets in solidarity. Musical artist Tef Poe proclaimed that “Missouri is the new Mississippi” and the protesters on the front lines are average people. The young protesters’ words had a profound influence on the audience as their support grew. People realized they could not go home without doing more to make a difference. Although SLU provided the setting for this event, many in the crowd believed that the University could have done more.

Unlike the Ferguson shooting, the Myers shooting happened on Grand Boulevard and Shaw Avenue, not far from the doorsteps of SLU. On Thursday evening, Oct. 9, protesters were marching down Grand Boulevard toward SLU when the Metropolitan Police Department blocked Grand, preventing protesters from coming near the University. Protesters were angered by the seemingly effortless way the local police departments regulated their movements on public property. They were also upset with the media portraying them as villains and looters. Poe beseeched the “white media” to stop picking up a camera every time they saw African Americans arguing: “This is not a zoo, or a circus.”

Protesters recognized a racial divide within the city in which they are treated unequally in a system of institutionalized racism, as opposed to the overt racism of the past. According to the Sentencing Project, one in three African American men have a chance of being incarcerated in their lifetime, compared to one in 17 Caucasian men. One protester said she would rather have the “KKK riding up in hoods with burning crosses” opposing their presence than today’s covert racism of anonymous hatred.

Meanwhile, the social media application Yik Yak, which allows local users to post anonymously, has been used to promote what some call insensitive comments. Since the start of the demonstration, users have been making comments such as “alright SLU vs. the black community,” or “I’m painting my skin black and infiltrating the group, I will report back my fellow students.” Demonstrators feel that such comments do not uphold the Jesuit mission of “men and women for others.”

While counter-protests have emerged, a large body at SLU has come out in support of the clock tower demonstration. One supportive student said he could understand where the anger in the African American community was coming from. He felt SLU’s
Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (DPSEP) responded well to the incident, saying it was good that they allowed their presence, but that they did have “a job to watch the protesters.” Curious passers-by stopped and asked questions about what organizers hoped to gain from the demonstration. Many students seemed genuinely interested in the affairs taking place on campus.

People from all over the country converged on SLU’s campus. One came from Washington, D.C. He encouraged legal action against racial injustices. Another came from Memphis, Tenn. and said that he just wanted to show his support because too often the lives of young black boys are taken for granted.

Protestors wanted to encourage awareness of the surrounding community, and maybe even act as catalysts for change. A recurring question was: “What can I do, as a SLU student, to make a difference?” Demonstrators responded by encouraging SLU students to get out of their comfort zones, go to ground zero (Ferguson) and protest racial injustices and police brutality. Members of the Ferguson community challenged members of the SLU community, invoking privilege and community obligation.