The walls of the Oklahoma Memorial Union echoed for hours today. Not with clinking silverware or with food orders being called out — they echoed with one loud, impassioned cry: black lives matter.
“Silence is not an option — silence is violence,” said J.D. Baker, public relations junior, from atop a chair in the middle of the food court.
A group of OU student activists held a community protest Sept. 22 against police violence and the death of Terence Crutcher.
The "Die-In" was organized by the Revolutionary Baddies, a student organization led by women of color, to protest police violence and the Sept. 16 death of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa.
The protest, which lasted about four hours, began at the Unity Garden on the South Oval at noon, led by student leaders Ariana Hall, Taylor Sanchez and Carey Flack. Protesters made posters and marched to the Union, chanting “no justice, no peace, no racist police."
Related gallery: Black Lives Matter protesters hold die-in in Oklahoma Memorial Union
At the Union, they lay on the floor of the food court, listening to speeches on racism and police brutality.
“The more uncomfortable people are, the more impact this is going to make,” Hall said. “We've been uncomfortable for a very long time."
Leaders stood on chairs, and they called for protesters to close their eyes and remain silent as a tribute to those dead from police violence. Then they were called to chant.
OU Vice President for the University Community Jabar Shumate and Secretary to the Vice President D’Andre Fisher were present at the protest, with Shumate lying on the floor and chanting with students.
“I happened to know Terence Crutcher personally,” Shumate said. “Knowing the family, I think they would be very proud to see his life be used in a way to bring people together to talk about critical things that need to be talked about and discussed for us to build as a community, a city and as a nation. I feel like that is what they want for their son — for his life to represent.”
One OU administrator was not present at the die-in, however. Multiple protesters questioned the absence of OU President David Boren, repeatedly crying, “Where’s David Boren at?”
Boren released a statement about the protest and Crutcher's death via Twitter at 1:27 p.m., almost an hour and a half into the protest.
Protest leaders spoke about things from their own experiences as students of color to the shortcomings of OU in dealing with diversity and allowed protesters to stand and speak.
To white students: "You worked 1/2 as hard to get twice as far." pic.twitter.com/W4DnTuGgxP— Emma Keith (@shakeitha_97) September 22, 2016
“Racism is taught, and with the necessary tools and guidance to help the larger body at OU, we can really help people to become the ideal Sooner citizen — being respectful of cultures, learning about how to treat people with respect," said Marika Barker, a pre-med psychology sophomore. "Just because racism doesn’t happen to you does not mean it doesn’t matter."
Organizers led protesters in chants, yelling, “black lives matter,” “freedom is not a game” and “no justice, no peace, no racist police” for several minutes at a time.
The die-in was not without resistance, however. Groups of students walked through the food court yelling, “go back to Africa” and “blue lives matter.”
The disruptions were met with louder cries of “black lives matter” and impassioned speeches from protesters. Event organizers had planned for such conflict, designating “de-escalators” at the start of the event to protect protesters from potentially violent situations.
Protest leaders also continually called out students who sat in the union and remained uninvolved with the protest. The die-in drove many students from their lunches, leaving only a few behind.
After several hours of heated cries and calls for change, the protest leaders asked everyone in the area to join them on the floor for a moment of silence in solidarity and respect to those who had been killed by police brutality and to those who had died fighting for the Black Lives Matter movement.
For almost an hour, eerie silence followed. No one moved. Students buying lunch stepped over and moved around the protesters lying on the floor.
The only disruption was the announcement that Betty Shelby, the Tulsa police officer responsible for shooting Terence Crutcher, faces charges of first degree manslaughter. The news brought cheers from the crowd.
Afterwards, the protest leaders thanked everyone who came to participate, swearing that together they would all make a difference.
“This (protest) was far more powerful than what I have seen so far,” Micah Stover, human relations junior, said comparing the die-in to other protests she has participated in. “Every single one of the organizers poured their heart and soul and patience into this. Despite hecklers, despite aggressors — they were just so composed. It was just so strong all the way through.”
Shumate said he is proud of the students and the dialogue brought about by Crutcher's death.
“In a community, you have to have respect, which means you have to have transparency and you have to have honesty,” Shumate said. “In order for us to get to where I know we can be as a university and as a community, we have to engage in healthy dialogue ... I’m really proud of our students. They have really put together a great opportunity for our university to grow and learn."
This article was corrected at 8:32 p.m. Sept. 22 to reflect the correct spelling of D'Andre Fisher's name.