The sound of protestors singing “Happy Birthday” echoed down Franklin Street on Friday as students and community members circled the American flag in the Peace and Justice Plaza to honor the life of Breonna Taylor, who would have turned 27 that day.
To honor Taylor, a Black woman fatally shot by Louisville police officers as she slept in her apartment in March, hundreds gathered for “Chapel Hill for Black Lives,” a peaceful demonstration on Friday co-sponsored by UNC Black Congress and UNC Black Student Movement.
Starting at 3 p.m., protesters marched over the course of about three hours from SASB Plaza to the Peace and Justice Plaza in front of the Chapel Hill Courthouse.
Surrounded by crowds dressed in purple, Taylor’s favorite color, student leaders from the two groups — who requested to remain anonymous due to safety concerns — began the event by acknowledging incidents of police violence, which they said resulted in “Black deaths piling up day by day, generation by generation.”
In a statement released May 30, BSM said the recent killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed and George Floyd reflect the historical struggle of Black Americans.
“We recognize that these tragic killings are not isolated events, but instead represent a mechanism of the systemic bigotry and white supremacy plaguing our country since its inception,” the statement said.
The Black Lives Matter movement should include black people of different genders and sexual orientations, one student leader said at the protest.
"When we say, 'Black lives matter,' we don't mean 'some Black lives matter,' we mean 'all Black lives matter,'" she said.
Student leaders reiterated that it is important to abolish, rather than reform, unjust systems.
“This is not a reformist movement. It's an abolition movement,” another student leader said. "It’s a movement to abolish police, prisons and all of these systems that are products of white supremacy.”
Demonstrators then continued to march toward North Campus while chanting “no justice, no peace” and holding signs in different languages.
Kellum Thomson, a rising first-year at Kent State University, said that instead of watching the movement happen, he was excited to be able to join in person.
“I was watching everything on the news and I was just tired of sitting at home,” he said. “I got into a big argument with my mom, but we came to the compromise that I'm an adult and that I want to do it.”
In addition to racial justice issues, speakers from UNC student groups also addressed the University's mishandling of sexual assault cases. In August 2019, the U.S. Department of Education concluded that UNC had operated in violation of campus safety laws for years by providing inadequate systems for sexual violence victims, among multiple other violations.
“You must aggressively advocate for sexual assault survivors and victims,” a speaker said. “You must be loud and head on. You must do it in public. You must hold people accountable. You must hold space for people to tell their story and not question them."
From Polk Place, marchers continued north toward Franklin Street and arrived at the Peace and Justice Plaza.
For Friday's protest to have an impact at all, advocacy must continue past one day of demonstrating, said Christopher Smith, a recent high school graduate and town resident who attended the protest.
“As of right now, we did it for one time," Smith said. "But if we keep doing it over time, I think we will make a difference."
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