Shouting “Black lives matter, no justice, no peace,” students and Oxford community members gathered to protest injustice regarding police violence against blacks in a “die-in” in front of The University of Mississippi’s Student Union Wednesday afternoon. Some students wore tape over their mouths with the phrase “I can’t breathe” written on them and some held signs stating “Ferguson is Everywhere” and “Black Lives Matter.” The protest lasted 20 minutes and included about 40 people. The participants lay in front of the stairs in the Union courtyard.
Freshman Allen Coon organized the die-in. The inspiration for the die-in came from a die-in held in the fall of 2014 in the Union food court.
“I saw that there was one in November inside of the Student Union beside the food court, but I felt like it was really unorganized and that students didn’t really know what was happening,” Coon said. “I felt like it needed to be in a more open environment where people are walking by and noticing it.”
Walter Scott, stepfather of Ole Miss football player Fadol Brown, was shot and killed by a police officer in South Carolina on Saturday.
“It really just shows how police violence against people color quite literally affects us all, even here at The University of Mississippi, where we don’t think about that being an issue,” Coon said.
Not only did students participate, but locals who heard about the protest did as well. Cristen Hemmins, chair of the Lafayette County Democratic Party, heard about the protest via Coon’s Facebook post and was glad to have the chance to protest police violence and discrimination against blacks.
“I’ve been wanting a way to protest all the deaths and was really glad to see a student group put this together,” Hemmins said. “I think it’s really important that we get more members of the community involved – that it shouldn’t just be a student effort. Especially with Walter Scott’s death and the connection with one of our football players here at Ole Miss, I hope they can really activate the students and create more awareness on this important nationwide issue.”
Senior sociology major Juliana Headings felt relieved to have a way to protest.
“I’ve been hoping for a response on the Ole Miss campus, and I’m glad that this is something that has been finally organized and come through,” Headings said. “It is important that we organize and represent on (the victims’) behalf and speak for them since they can no longer speak.”
The goal of the die-in was not just to spread awareness of the issue but also to evoke an emotional response to the effects of police violence and discrimination.
“I wanted to make people angry,” Coon said. “I wanted to rile up emotions from both sides. I want white students to feel really uncomfortable and black students to get angry because this is something that affects them. I just wanted to really trigger some emotions.”
The die-in gathered many onlookers and inspired people passing through the courtyard to join the protest. Allen Coon hopes to successfully organize another die-in on campus in the future.
“When Ferguson happened, that was when we all started to wake up, but this is not something new,” Coon said. “Even though it’s a new year, the problems of 2014 — Ferguson and Eric Gardner –– they didn’t disappear, they didn’t stop happening in 2015.”