Across the U.S., Lewis & Clark students are marching to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.
Georgia Langer ’23 has been participating in Black Lives Matter protests in Minneapolis with her brother Quincy Powe, as well as distributing supplies to fund protesting efforts. Roland Berg ’22 has also been distributing supplies in the Twin Cities area and collecting donations to buy the supplies with some friends.
Floyd was arrested because Cup Foods, a grocery store, claimed he used a counterfeit $20 bill while trying to buy cigarettes. Shortly after police arrived, Derek Chauvin, a white officer, kneeled on Floyd’s throat for nearly nine minutes, killing him as Floyd said “I can’t breathe.” Those were the exact words spoken by Eric Garner, a black man killed by a New York City police officer in 2014.
The following day protests started in Minneapolis as thousands began demonstrating against police brutality toward black Americans. Floyd’s death came at a time of heightened tensions in the country after Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and Nina Pop were also killed by police or white citizens. These incidents, coupled with Floyd’s killing, have inspired protests in over 140 cities across the country.
Robin Holmes-Sullivan, vice president of Student Life and dean of students, is disheartened by recent events.
“I am appalled, saddened and angry about the continued disregard and targeting of black and brown individuals,” Holmes-Sullivan said via email. “This not only impacts me personally, but it impacts the lives of so many—including our students and anyone else from marginalized or disenfranchised communities here in the Portland area.”
These events also motivated a statement from the LC Executive Council urging collective response against racism in what they called “a message of solidarity.” The statement was sent out to students via email on June 1. Prior to the statement’s release, in a widely shared post on social media, students and alumni demanded a public show of support for black members of the LC community by President Wim Wiewel and the college at large.
“We are compelled to offer a statement to our community that recognizes this moment and calls on us to work together in support of a collective response,” the Executive Council said via email.
Langer first attended protests on May 26, the day after Floyd was killed. According to her, protests were nonviolent until police put on masks, preparing to tear gas the crowd.
“Everyone was social distancing until tear gas came, and with tear gas, we could not breathe with the mask on because it was just going all around inside the mask,” Langer said. “So we all took off the masks and started coughing and wheezing.”
Langer, who is white, was worried for her brother, Powe, who has asthma, making him more sensitive to tear gas. Powe has a history of protesting that started when he was in ninth grade once he was informed on issues that affect him as a black man. The nature of current protests in Minneapolis is new to him.
Powe views the intensity of Minneapolis protests as necessary.
“What is happening now is the most intense protests I’ve ever been to in my life. (Peaceful protest) has not worked and nothing has changed,” he said. “We had black legislators, we have had a black president, we are in every system, we are engaged and nothing is changing, so I think people are tired and it has intensified.”
Though he is in full support of the protests, Powe still has fear when he attends. He said this fear does not come from his fellow protesters, but rather police presence at protests and in his life.
“I am terrified when I am on the frontlines, when I see things happen. I do shake, but I don’t move and I am not defeated, because I know I have to be there,” Powe said. “It is not about the fear (of protesting), because I could be dead, so I am more worried about that than afraid of being out there.”
Qwynci Bowman ’23, a black woman, feels that these protests are different. She said she has hope that she has not had in the past. Looking on at protesters in Minneapolis from her hometown of Kyle, Texas, she is inspired.
“As we all know, black lives matter and police brutality is not new to our society,” Bowman said. “However something about this time feels different, maybe it’s because we’ve all been trapped in our houses because of the coronavirus, but I just see lots of people coming together and demanding action.”
Beyond attending protests, Langer has also been collecting supplies and dropping them off where needed. She said people have asked to give her money, but she did not trust herself to manage the funds as a white person, so she gave out her brother’s Venmo handle to accept donations.
Langer said it is very important for her to be aware of her privilege, which affects how she protests.
“White people as activists—it is really important because we have this role to use our white bodies, but it’s our role is to empower the people around us, the people who are minorities,” Langer said. “That’s something that I have had the privilege to know all of my life because of my brother.”
Berg, who is white, has been accepting donations along with a group of his friends. He said in the first three days they raised over $2,500. The group buys the supplies protesters say they need via social media and drop them off at locations accepting donations. Once they buy enough supplies for the day and budget enough money for the next day, the group donates the remainder to community organizations such as the Minnesota Freedom Fund, a bail fund for protesters.
Berg said he feels it is his responsibility to support protesters. He is proud of the response to his fundraising efforts.
“There’s been a really big response which I was not expecting at all,” Berg said. “But it felt nice to be contributing in some way and helping out the community.”
Berg said he is able to do this work because he is white and because of the privilege he holds.
“We’re also really privileged to have a car and be able to afford gas to be making these trips all around the Twin Cities,” Berg said. “Again, we’ve been really fortunate with people donating so we’re able to get a lot of supplies.”
Langer has also been assembling resources for protesters and people who want to help, but are staying home. She said it is important to be mindful that there is still a pandemic going on, but everyone can still contribute to the movement. She made a Google Doc which she linked in her Instagram bio that details information on tear gas, digital security and arrest rights. It also includes where donations can be sent, readings on race, and people to email, call and mail letters to. Langer said her document has been viewed by over 700 people.
Bowman supports the protests and organizing.
“I think it’s an amazing way of showing support for the cause,” Bowman said. “I love seeing everyone organizing supplies and transporting, demanding donations and going to protests. 1344/10.”
1344/10 is the code for the Hatch Act which outlines the restrictions on government employees, such as police, in political issues. Those in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been bringing it up to suggest that police are in violation of this law due to their behaviors at protests and beyond.
Holmes-Sullivan is aware of students participating in demonstrations, but encourages caution.
“I know that students from LC have been attempting to do something by participating in protests, letter writing, supporting bail funds and the like,” she said. “I am hoping that whatever action our students decide upon, they do so safely—for themselves and others.”
In their statement, the LC Executive Council said outreach and words of encouragement were not enough to solve the issues at hand.
“Our hope is that we can collectively recognize and challenge the historical, structural and systemic forms of racism that continue to threaten the lives of people of color and imperil the communities in which they live,” the Executive Council said via email. “Our hope is that we are moved to act in concrete and significant ways against the violence done to our friends, neighbors and colleagues.”
Powe is proud of his sister, but makes a point that their actions will not stop here. He believes much more radical change is necessary.
“It is not just about reforming the systems, it is about breaking these systems down and replacing them,” Powe said. “People need to understand that is what it is going to take because it has taken decades—it’s taken a long time to build these, it’s not going to take just a week or just a month to destroy them. We are going to tear the systems down and we are going to replace them.”