Jesuit Call to Justice protests discrimination and police violence
THE SANTA CLARA
January 22, 2014
Amid shrill whistles and honking horns, hundreds of students clad in black marched through campus, chanting in unison, “Black lives matter.”
Santa Clara joined the nation on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in protest against police brutality. The rally, called the “Jesuit Call to Justice,” included personal stories about discrimination and violence, a walk through America’s history of oppressing people of color and a “die-in” protest in front of Santa Clara’s iconic bronze Bronco statue.
Associate Professor of Law Margalynne Armstrong and Santa Clara alumnus Symone Jackson spoke on the historical and legal context of discrimination, as well as law enforcement and state violence.
“Let’s be clear,” said Jackson. “Police brutality is an issue of genocide.”
Jackson cited the “eight stages of genocide,” noting how “blaming victims and denying that crimes have been committed” falls in line with the eighth stage: denial.
Guest speaker Denise Johnson shared the story of her son Gregory, a black man who died at San Jose State University. Gregory Johnson Jr. was found hanging in the basement of a Sigma Chi fraternity house in 2008.
Denise Johnson said the evidence did not indicate that her son had committed suicide, but instead pointed toward a murder and a hate crime. She said the case currently sits with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
“This was a university,” said Johnson. “I sent him there for a degree. They sent him back in a coffin.”
Ely Flores shared the story of his best friend, Alex Nieto, who was shot and killed by members of the San Francisco Police Department while Laurie Valdez, talked about her personal ties with Antonio Lopez Guzman who was shot and killed by San Jose State University police. Both claimed that excessive force had been used.
Closing out the speakers, Professor Aldo Billingslea, associate provost for diversity and inclusion, embodied the spirit of the day’s namesake through a rousing reading of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Originally delivered in 1963, King’s words still resonated with Monday’s audience, who applauded as Billingslea recited, “America has given the Negro people a bad check.”
The slogan for the rally was “Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Justice Matters.” However, not all responses to the inclusive slogan were positive. Criticisms were brought up at last week’s Difficult Dialogues session, a weekly event hosted by the Office for Multicultural Learning with the intention of providing an open space for the discussion of controversial issues.
During the session, which was titled “Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter,” a very “charged conversation” occurred over the expansion of the original viral hashtag, according to Denise Castillo Chavez, assistant director of Undergraduate Admissions.
“People were frustrated with the watering down of the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Jade Agua, program director of the Office for Multicultural Learning.
Some saw the additions to the slogan as an attempt to make the rally more “manageable, or palatable,” for students, Agua said. According to Castillo Chavez, “Black Lives Matter, Brown Lives Matter” was the original slogan for the event.
“We decided to change it because even though it’s a given that all lives matter, it really humanizes what we’re trying to do,” said Castillo Chavez. “We put black lives on the forefront, but we also included all other lives who have been treated as secondary in our society.”
Following the series of speakers at the rally, chanting students carried posters and cried for justice, marching through off-campus residences, the dorms and the intersection of El Camino Real and Benton Street, where they staged a second “die-in” protest.
Students lay silently on the sidewalk for four and a half minutes, symbolizing the four and a half hours Michael Brown’s body lay in the streets after he had been shot.
Meanwhile, senior Max Silva and graduate student Daniela Velasquez were among the few who walked from the throng of protesters across the street to the Santa Clara Police Department station to request a signature on a Call to Action statement written by members of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.
The statement acknowledges systemic oppression of people of color and explicitly stands in solidarity with them.
According to Silva and Velasquez, SCPD officials said they personally agreed with the statement but were not under the authority to sign it at that time. University President Michael Engh, S.J., who attended Monday’s rally, was one of the first to sign the statement.
“I thought it was very important for all the Jesuit colleges and universities to stand united for this cause,” Engh said. “It’s important for us to educate ourselves about the matters of justice and to work for justice. It’s part of the whole mission of the university.”
Organizers of the event included Campus Ministry; Creating Progress at Home; Igwebuike, Santa Clara’s Black Student Union; the Office for Multicultural Learning and the Multicultural Center.
Contact Vishakha Joshi at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4849.