Campus & community, Campus news, Events at Berkeley

Campus gathers to honor black lives lost to violence

By Christopher Merchant

Participants sing at vigal
Students sang at a campus Black Lives Matter vigil in 2016. Berkeley’s Black community has historically created spaces to speak out against racial injustices. (UC Berkeley photo)

Students, staff, faculty and members of the community gathered on Sproul Plaza Monday evening for a vigil and open mic commemorating the lives lost during recent police shootings around the nation.

Participants at the vigil sing along with the audience. (Hulda Nelson, UC Berkeley photo)

Participants at the vigil sing along with the audience. (UC Berkeley photos by Hulda Nelson)

During the vigil , organizers highlighted the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, black men killed by police in separate shootings last week. They also paid tribute to the five police officers who were fatally shot while protecting a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas over the weekend.

Hundreds of people attended the event, and passersby stopped to observe the memorial. It was essential for the community to unite to commemorate those lost to police brutality and the officers defending demonstrators, said Na’ilah Nasir, the campus’s v ice chancellor for equity and inclusion.

Na’ilah Suad Nasir speaks at a vigil

Na’ila Nasir, vice chancellor for equity and inclusion, speaks to the crowd.

“We have to hold simultaneously the horror of terrorism in all forms and the terror of structural racism as it plays out in systems of policing,” Nasir said. But we also have to recognize the unique history of that system with respect to the black community, and the connection between racialized state violence and a deeply rooted American ideology that renders black life worthless.”

Following the shootings, demonstrations have been staged across the United States, with leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement calling for reforms in how police treat black people and other minorities, particularly during peaceful protests and routine traffic stops.

Members of the Black Student Union, the African American Student Development Office, the Black Staff and Faculty Organization and ASUC senator Zaynab AbdulQadir also spoke.

Afterward, the stage was opened up to the audience. Some had tears in their eyes as people took the stage to lead songs, chants and spoken word poems. Others offered testimonials about loved ones they had lost to gun violence.

Listen: Performers sing a rendition of “Which Side Are You On?”

“(Sproul Plaza) is a significant space,” AJ Moultrie, communications director for the Black Student Union, said of the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in 1967. “It’s accessible to the public, and it has historical significance… There are eyes on us at Berkeley.”

Students, faculty, staff and community members gathered for the vigil. (Hulda Nelson, UC Berkeley photo)

Students, faculty, staff and community members gathered for the vigil. (Hulda Nelson, UC Berkeley photo)

Matthew Hawkins, of Oakland, appealed to the white people in attendance to be allies in the cause to stop police brutality against black people and other people of color.

“For you allies, act like that was your son who was shot,” Hawkins said. “You’re at UC Berkeley… Leverage this stage to make a change.”