Dressed in all black and a Malcolm X T-shirt, freshman and Sacramento native Shalieze Motley stood in front of roughly 100 students who gathered at Gleeson Plaza to protest the death of Stephon Clark, a unarmed black man who was shot and killed by police officers on the evening of March 18 in Sacramento, Calif. The “Anti-Police Brutality Protest,” spearheaded by Motley, officially began at 12 p.m. on Monday, eight days after the killing of Clark.
Motley, the protest’s chief organizer, began the event with an opening statement and a prayer for Clark’s family. She then taught the crowd a call-and-response that she utilized throughout the event, asking them, “What’s his name?” “Stephon Clark.” “What do you want to end?” “Police brutality.” “Because why?” “Black lives matter.” After the protesters learned their responses, she led them on a march, from the Gleeson Plaza past Kalmanovitz Hall down to Golden Gate Avenue, before returning to the plaza. A USF campus tour for prospective students watched on. The protest then consisted of a variety of speeches, as Motley said that a large focus of the protest was to highlight a variety of student voices, and intermittent chants.
At least one student in attendance, freshman international studies major Grace Jackson, personally knew the effects of police brutality. When asked about her reason for protesting, Jackson talked about her friend, Chance Gittens, a black teenager who was shot and killed by police officers on Jan. 27, 2017 in Des Moines, Wash., as well as her father’s encounters with police brutality. Jackson said, “This brutality would never happen to anyone else. This happens to a people who are part of a country that doesn’t want them.” She added that, “I stand with USF students who know that this is wrong.”
Student speakers included ASUSF Senate President Reyna Brown, Sister Connection President Chaniece Jefferson and various members of the Black Student Union. Student speeches both explicitly discussed the impact of gun violence and police brutality on black Americans and expanded on the difficulties that black students face on USF’s campus.
Brown opened her speech by criticizing USF President Fitzgerald and members of the Board of Trustees for not paying greater attention to the requests of black students at USF, a statement that was met with loud cheers from the crowd. She said, “The school uses the melanin in [black students’] skin for bragging rights, but refuses to give this melanin what they need to succeed,” and told protesters that, “If you’re not happy with what USF is doing for you, demand change.” Jefferson encouraged black students to “take up space” on campus. She emphasized, “Change comes from solidarity,” and urged students to participate in the midterm elections later this year to produce legislative change to combat issues like gun violence.
Vice Provost of Student Life Julie Orio also spoke at the event, telling students about the importance of holding USF’s administration and faculty accountable for the furthering of social justice. She planned to attend BSU’s meeting on March 27.
Motley began organizing the protest on March 24. She said that her idea for the on-campus protest stemmed from her frustration at being unable to attend Sacramento’s protest about Clark’s shooting that took place on March 23 due to her classes. When asked about the process of planning the protest, she said, “I was on the bus just thinking about it all, then I decided I was going to be organizing a protest here on campus.” She then proceeded to create a flyer with details of the event, and, with assistance from the Black Student Union and Sister Connections, began to circulate the flyer around campus, through email and on social media platforms.
“Long term, I’m hoping to really bring social justice to USF because we really have a lot of that rhetoric going on, but since I’ve gotten here, I haven’t seen a lot of protests,” Motley said. “Protest is how we get things done. It’s how we bring black issues to the forefront of America. Social justice comes with action. So I hope we’ll bring action to USF.”
Ultimately, Motley hopes that the message of spreading “peace and love” will resonate with the protesters – a message that Clark’s grandmother has been emphasizing to protesters in Sacramento. She urged students to remain conscious of the world outside USF, reminding the crowd that “Life is not a textbook. Life is not a classroom. Life does not stop because we are behind ivy walls.”
Featured Photo: Freshman Shalieze Motley and members of BSU and Sister Connection spoke at the protest to honor the life of Stephon Clark on Monday at Gleeson Plaza. AMIE LU/FOGHORN