More than 500 Plattsburgh State students, staff and faculty, as well as Plattsburgh community members, attended a Black Lives Matter forum held in Yokum 200 Tuesday night to discuss social injustice against African Americans and criminal justice reform.
The forum was hosted by members of PSUC’s Alpha Phi Alpha, Theta Nu Xi and Lambda Upsilon Lambda. In the town hall style meeting, hosts asked attendees questions and heard answers from those in the lecture hall, which offered thoughtful discussions and solutions to racial inequality across the country.
Host and PSUC student Jaylen Edwards opened the forum by saying, “People are dying. Our people are dying. People who look like me, are dying.”
Edwards also said he, and many other African Americans, pay for a higher education, and may not be able to utilize the knowledge obtained if he, or someone else, is shot or killed for the color of their skin.
As the forum began, a video of shooting victim Charles Kinsey was shown. Kinsey, a therapist, was shot by police in Miami in July, while helping an autistic patient in distress. Kinsey was shot while laying on his back with his hands up in compliance with police. He told them several times of his occupation, and informed police of his situation with his patient.
In 911 calls, police were told Kinsey, or his patient, was in possession of a gun. The “gun” was actually a toy truck held by Kinsey’s patient.
The entire encounter was caught on video, showing how quick the officer was to fire his gun. As Kinsey lay on the ground handcuffed and bleeding, he asked the police officer why he shot him. The officer said he “didn’t know” why he pulled the trigger.
Diversity Pluralism Inclusion department Chief Diversity Officer JW Wiley explained to the audience that the miami officers intended to shoot the disabled man, but missed, striking Kinsley.
The forum continued as hosts asked how the community could help end racial violence, how police training can be reformed to prevent racial bias and how the media influences society.
“We are here to encourage a safe space, and to go beyond a safe space. We want to create a brave space,” host and Theta Nu Xi member Zyaijah Nadler said.
The microphone was then passed around the audience. Students and community members took turns telling their personal stories of police violence and racism. Some of these incidences occurred on the PSUC campus.
One student said as he was hanging promotional flyers for the forum near Hawkins Pond, several people stopped and made racist remarks and slurs. He also emphasized the positive remarks, as others asked him about criminal justice reform and how to get involved.
The conversation shifted as students and community members discussed the potential causes of police brutality.
Some audience members said main causes are “unnecessary fear of black people,” and “lack of training.”
“The militarization of the police force and the military mindset infused into police officers, causes everyone to become afraid,” Student Association President Michael Kimmer said in the discussion.
Another student, Hazel, asked the audience why police officers bought tickets to “mostly-black” basketball games without fear, but were suddenly afraid while on the job.
The audience also discussed how the idea of a badge provided law enforcement with a sense of privilege. This privilege, according to attendees, allowed for corruption and abuse of power.
One audience member said law enforcement should, “use privilege to build society up, not tear it down.”
At one point, someone asked why the police officers in the back of the lecture hall had not spoken out yet. PSUC University Police Chief Jerry Lottie approached the front of the room and took the opportunity to empathize with upset community members.
“I haven’t spoken yet because I am listening. And I want to hear you,” he said.
Lottie also said he, and the department, works to improve the PSUC community so it can be a “model for the rest of the country.”
Of those community figures in attendance, Plattsburgh City Councilor Rachelle Armstrong joined the conversation suggesting the town “stand up together,” to fight for change. She also said she was moved by students’ stories of police brutality and racial profiling.
Communications Adjunct Lecturer Damien Quinlan delivered an impromptu speech to the forum.
He said religion was not emphasized in his family’s home growing up, as there were no photos of “God or the Pope,” but he said there was always a photo of Doctor Martin Luther King.
“Martin Luther king’s dream is alive and well in this room tonight,” Quinlan said.
Prior to the Black Lives Matter forum, a peaceful protest was held in the Angell College Center in support of the movement.
Dozens of students, of all backgrounds, sat in the hallway leading to the Sundowner and up the adjoining staircase holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” and “I can’t breathe,” in support of Staten Island man Eric Garner, who was killed by police in July 2014.
The students sat in silence, facing the main entrance of the ACC. In the very front of the crowd laid a man under a sheet, next to a soda bottle and a bag of skittles scattered on the floor. The sheet was partially colored red, symbolizing blood.
The man represented Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American, who was killed by police officer George Zimmerman in February 2012.
Martin was shot while walking home from a local convenience store, holding an Arizona iced tea can and a bag of Skittles.
PSTV will be broadcasting coverage of the demonstration, as well as the forum, Monday, Oct. 3, at 8 p.m. on “North Country News.”
The demonstration, as well as the forum, provided the PSUC community to share ideas and solutions to preventing racial violence.
One community member said the conversation “starts at home” with loved ones, even if it may be uncomfortable.
She said it is easy to discuss the difficult matters with people who are also passionate about solving the issues, but it can be harder to talk about it with people who are not in support, or uneducated, of the movement.
“The only way ‘downtown’ will care,” a student, Omar, said, “is if SUNY Plattsburgh cares.”
Email Marissa Russo at firstname.lastname@example.org