A call for action at NCCU rally
At a rally in front of the N.C. Central University School of Law on Monday protesting the shooting death of a black, unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, a law professor called on students to do more beyond the demonstration.
The rally was organized by the NCCU Black Law Students Association to protest the killing of Michael Brown on Aug. 9. It drew students as well as leaders. NCCU Chancellor Debra Saunders-White attended, and the Rev. William J. Barber, North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President delivered remarks along with student-leaders.
And as students have done at other schools around the country, protestors stood for a somber photo with their hands up in the air. But Irving Joyner, a law professor and another speaker at the rally, called for them to do more that to take a picture “with our hands up, saying ‘don’t shoot.’”
“The fact that another black person was gunned down by a white police officer is nothing new,” Joyner said. “What is new is that we are concerned about it today. And in Ferguson, people were concerned about it. And our concern, though demonstrated here today, must be a first step.”
Joyner called for students to have a dialogue on campus and across Durham about strategies to avoid future incidents. And saying that people in Ferguson failed to exercise their power, he called for the students and protestors to get out and vote.
He said the majority of the population of Feguson is African-American, but only one of the six of City Council members there are black. And, as multiple media outlets have reported, three of 53 police officers are black.
“That is an abject failure of power,” he said. “It occurs, it results from the failure of people in Ferguson to recognize that they have power and then to exercise that power. All they have to do is register and vote.”
If they had exercised their right to vote, he said they might have a different police chief and the police department might look different. In addition to calling for people to vote, he also called for changes to legal protections for police officers.
“We can’t change it by having rallies and memorial services,” he said. “We can’t change it by getting mad and burning down buildings and breaking out glass in stores and stealing a six pack of (40-fluid-ounce drinks). We change this reality by gaining power, using power, and maintaining the power that we have.”
Barber called for protestors to reach out to allies “across race and color,” to act against inequalities in education, the economy, and voting rights and to end street violence. He asked for involvement in the protest of actions of the Republican-dominated legislature in a march for voting rights in Raleigh on Thursday.
“Police and police women are called to protect and serve,” Barber also said. “What happens when the police begin to prey – p-r-e-y – and to serve?”
Starr Battle, chairwoman of the NCCU Black Law Students Association, called the law students “social engineers of change.” She called for the students to continue to rally with a “legitimate plan of action.” The students will be holding a follow-up conversation at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, she said, asking members of the public who want to attend to sign up.
“We’re coming together in solidarity with the victims and families … to say we’re not going to stand for a violation of fundamental rights for African-American citizens,” she also said in an interview.
Taalib Saber, a law student at NCCU, spoke Monday at the rally, saying that we live in a white supremacist society in which African-Americans still feel the effects of slavery. He called for people to pool their money to “bankrupt white supremacist institutions.” He also said that religious leaders and families need to step up.
“It’s time to wake up; it’s time to rise up,” he said.
Attending the rally on Monday was Airik Brown, a first-year law student at NCCU. As an African-American male who said he’s experienced unfair targeting or profiling, he said he can relate to what’s happened in Ferguson. As a freshman in college in Raleigh, he said he was standing by the street when the occupant of a passing car yelled, unprovoked, a racial slur at him.
He said he attended the rally on Monday to let the “people of Ferguson know that we support them and their movement.”
“We understand their frustration,” he said. “Especially being a black male, I understand their frustration.”
Former school board member Jackie Wagstaff said Durham is affected by issues similar to Ferguson, including racial profiling.
“Michael Browns (happen) every day in Durham,” she said.
Wagstaff said she wants to see leaders grapple with what she sees as the root cause of the problem: jobs and the economy.
“Until we are ready to address the economy – what you see is what you’re going to get,” she said.
The rally also drew Gabriel Wright, a first-year law student at NCCU. Wright said he was glad to see the rally happen and that he agreed with Joyner’s remarks on power in political policy decisions and voting.
“The true power is getting to vote and making the changes we hope to see in the community,” he said.