Hearing a Cornell student shout ‘Fuck Black people’ shows why we need Black Lives Matter

I was proud to take part in today’s protest

At today’s Black Lives Matter rally, just as we began to cross Thurston Bridge, a white student walking on the other side shouted: “Fuck Black people!”

“Did he really say that?” asked my friend Joey. It seemed like he said it as a stupid joke – it didn’t register with the rest of the crowd, possibly drowned out by traffic. It was unbelievable, but unmistakable – I heard him say it.

The white student, a preppy-looking guy, walked off in the direction of North Campus, towards the freshman dorms. And the rally continued.

If you needed proof we needed a Black Lives Matter event at Cornell, this was it – a student thinking it would be funny to shout “Fuck Black people” at a group of demonstrators.

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Photography by Lisa Vollmann

Today’s event began at the end of the Thurston Bridge, which separates North and Central campuses, where the circle of protestors grew larger by the second.

As I came across the bridge, more and more people of different races and backgrounds, mostly wearing black, added themselves to the circle.

Soon, a hundred or so people had formed a ring surrounding three young African-American students, also dressed in black. Two of the three students, young men who appeared to be undergraduates, held the ends of a large banner that read “Black Lives Matter” as the third student, a woman, held a makeshift megaphone with the word “DIRECTOR” on the side up to her mouth.

“OK, this is how we’re going to get this protest started,” she said through the megaphone as I moseyed my way to the most inner layer of the circle.

“When I say a name, you will yell back ‘their life mattered’. Trayvon Martin!”

“Their life mattered!” we responded, sounding rather hesitant.

“Eric Garner!” she yelled with intensity.

“Their life mattered!” We were louder this time, beginning to understand what was happening.

“Philando Castile!”

“Their life mattered!”

“Sandra Bland!”

“Their life mattered!”

Photography by Lisa Vollman

Photography by Lisa Vollmann

This rhythmic chanting continued, and I looked around the crowd. Although many members of the circle were African-American, I noticed a few people who were not.

Jessie, my white RA, was standing directly across from me. A senior of Asian decent with whom I played pick-up basketball stood three people to the left of me.

It comforted me to see people I knew, people I never thought would be a part of this movement, care about Black lives.

Emily, a junior who is majoring in Biology and Society, said she was there “to show solidarity for Black Lives Matter, to support the Black Student Union, and to call attention to the deaths of Black and brown people.”

Ashley, a senior Chemistry major, added: “I’m tired of waking up every day to another Black life gone.”

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Photography by Lisa Vollmann

The call and response had ended. The Director was talking again, and the crowd was hushed.

The Director had a speech prepared, and began to read as students passing by looked confusingly at the circle, possibly not understanding what was happening.

She continued her speech, saying the Black Student Union of Cornell stood in solidarity with those who were, and still are, being incarcerated at an incredibly high rate for non-violent crimes.

She then listed six demands that the Black Student Union had:

– End the war on Black people in America
– Provide reparations for those affected by systemic racism, such as police brutality and mass incarceration
– Investment in education, health, and safety of African-Americans across the country
– Economic justice for all African-Americans
– Community control of oppressive systems that hurt Black Americans
– Equal Black political power in our society

After she finished the speech, the crowd was still silent.

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Photography by Lisa Vollmann

“No justice, no peace!” she yelled. “No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!”

The crowd eventually caught on. “No justice, no peace!” we yelled with her.

“No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!”

“Keep it going!” the Director said as she walked through the circle towards the Thurston Bridge. “No justice, no peace!”

Protestors began to raise homemade cardboard posters with messages written on them in Sharpie.

“My Hands Are Up and They Still Shoot”

“Modern Day Lynchings Equal Police MURDERS!”

“BLACK BY POPULAR DEMAND”

“BLACK LIVES MATTER”

“STOP KILLING MY PEOPLE!”

Eventually, the chant changed from “no justice, no peace” to “Black lives matter!”

“Black lives matter! Black lives matter!” The chanting was emphatic as the protestors walked across the Thurston Bridge.

“Black lives matter!”

That’s when a white student crossing the bridge to the other side of the street yelled: “Fuck Black people!” in response.

The protestors were unfazed. The proud chant of “Black lives matter” continued as the protest entered the heart of Cornell.

Additional reporting and photography by Lisa Vollmann.

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