September 25, 2016

‘Black Trans Lives Matter’ protests violence on campus

A group of students with the organization Flower Power gathered on campus on Tuesday, Sept. 1 to protest the death of 17 American black transgender woman this year.

“There have been many other cases of women dying at the hands of the state. The state mandates violence against women of color,” group leader and Webster University student Yai Nikos said.

The protest started outside of Sverdrup, with students creating rainbow chalk art, writing things like “check your privilege” and “black trans lives matter.”

Green and pink sticky notes decorated the awning of the building, and echoes of “out of the dorms, into the streets” could be heard through the doors as the protesters headed back outside towards Webster Hall.

The group moved to the corner of Edgar Road and Big Bend Road across from Marletto’s. They held pink, green and white signs, all carrying the same messages from the graffiti. Public Safety observed as the students moved across campus. They had no comment on the situation, and Nikos said they had not said anything to the students.

Dean of Students Ted Hoef kept his distance as well, also overseeing the situation.

Webster student Jackson Mitchell said he had overheard Nikos talking at Marletto’s and wanted to be involved.

“I’ve thought about a lot of this stuff for a long time, but I’ve never acted out against it,” Mitchell said. “It’s really good to be a part of it.”

After getting the attention of pedestrians and passing cars, Nikos announced the group would be moving to Webster Hall.

Signs held high, they marched between Webster and Loretto Halls toward Lockwood Avenue. As they moved toward the intersection of Lockwood and Bompart Avenue, Webster Groves police officers parked along the side of the road, watching the protesters as they made their way directly into the street.

“We [Hoef and Associate Dean of Students Colette Cummings] learned through Twitter activity that there would be a demonstration tonight at six,” Hoef said. “We got some assurances from the students of what would happen and what wouldn’t, and evidently we weren’t told the truth.”

Hoef then gestured to the students walking in the street. He said the main problem is the disruption of classes, but they do want people to be able to express their voices.

At this point, four Webster Groves police officers pulled up next to the students, red and blue lights flashing.

“Get in the street again, you’re going to jail,” an officer yelled toward them.

The students made no reply to the officers, but did move to the parking lot by the Thompson House and East Academic Building (EAB). The officers slowly followed them in their patrol cars. Once in the parking lot, two others were already waiting in unmarked cars.

The group stopped in between the EAB and the Community Music School (CMS). It was at this point that Hoef stepped in to remind the students they were free to protest, but did need to obey Webster’s code of conduct.

“The consequences of disrupting classes could be your arrest,” Hoef said.

A female protester argued that they were students who paid money to be at this school, so why could they be arrested?

“This is education,” she said.

Nikos then broke away from the group, held the door open to the EAB, looked at the group and asked if they were joining him.

The students did not follow, but Public Safety did as he entered and yelled “black lives matter” down the hallway. Classes were in session at the time and curious eyes looked out the door as the only voice in the building made its way through.
He exited the EAB and walked back around to where the other protesters had remained. When he arrived, there were a few spectators standing by, watching the event unfold.

A mother and father with two young children walked through the group to the parking lot. The mother held her daughter close and pushed her through the small crowd as the protesters started chanting again.

The protesters made their way back around the EAB to Garden Avenue, walking down the sidewalk towards Nerinx Hall. They stopped protesting but remained close in quiet conversation. Public Safety, Hoef and Webster Groves police maintained their distance.

The group announced they were done, crossed the street and walked into the parking garage. Public Safety left when they saw the group dissipate, while Hoef remained standing next to a police officer in his car. However Nikos had one more thing to say to Hoef.

“Hey Ted,” Nikos said. “Black lives matter.”

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