The Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter at the University of Virginia on Monday protested racism and white supremacy at the statue of Homer on the Lawn, the spot where an unidentified man last week hung a noose in what police say was a hate crime.
While hundreds of students and faculty passed by the statue at midday, some gathered around it to protest racist threats to the lives of Black students on UVa Grounds.
On Sept. 8, the University Police Department said a noose was found around the neck of Homer’s statue at the end of the Lawn, near Old Cabell Hall. The noose was placed around 11:15 p.m. on Sept. 7. Surveillance video showed a man hanging the noose and walking away.
Police released a photo from the video that shows a white man in a dark jacket walking away from the area and are asking for information on his identity.
A crowd of about 60 students, faculty, community organizers and other attendees stood around the statue, some holding signs and others wearing signs of solidarity. They listened to speakers from different UVa and Charlottesville organizations and activists.
Democratic Socialists chair and UVa student Ella Tynch asked attendees to not take photos that included the faces of any speakers or attendees without prior permission. She said the organization is concerned about potential consequences for students who participated, called for action or shared their sentiments about white supremacy, racism or the incident.
“You can’t increase surveillance and policing of students to address the problem of white supremacy when these systems are the result of white supremacy in the first place,” Tynch said. “It’s not like students aren’t out from 11 [p.m.] to 4 a.m. There are ambassadors whose job is to keep this place secure and yet a hateful form and symbol of violence hung here for five hours.”
“For Black men and Black women here on this campus and in this country, our life is always threatened. There’s always a noose around our neck. This is nothing new for us. I was hurting, especially when it first happened,” said one Black UVa student organizer.
“Use your white privilege and stand with us, because when it comes down to it and they want to start violence like [the noose], who is going to be right there, putting their body on the line just like mine?” the student said.
One student, who asked not to be named, said “not much has changed” since the day he first visited UVa after being accepted, just one day before white supremacists stormed the Lawn on Aug. 11, 2017.
A representative from the Charlottesville Beyond Policing community organization spoke to the crowd about the anticipated response from the university police. The representative predicted that the department will call for an increased police presence on campus, “which will harm Black [people] and those who have been historically under resourced in our community.”
Charlottesville Beyond Policing is a local organization that is working toward “building a police-free society,” according to its Facebook page.
Among the speakers, one of the co-chairs of the UVa Black Student Alliance’s political action committee read the organization’s response to the noose. The Sept. 8 statement condemns the existence of white supremacy in the university community and encourages the administration to take immediate action to resolve the incident.
“It is critical that Black students feel both safe at the University of Virginia,” the statement reads, “but also feel empowered to claim this university as our university.”
UVa professor and community activist Dr. Jalane Schmidt spoke to the group about the racist history and imagery of the noose, which was once a key tool in violence against Black Americans. The noose remains a threatening symbol of racially charged violence.
The interim dean of African American Affairs at UVa watched the demonstration from the shade of a tree about 10 yards away.
“People are starting to think about how we begin to enact social justice, how we begin to enact diversity, equity and inclusion,” said interim dean Michael Gerard Mason. “I think we can all engage in that conversation where we might begin to better describe what our actions look like.”
Before wrapping up the event, one UVa student recited a poem about the weight of being concern for the safely of Black individuals and their families under the threat of racist violence.
At the end of the protest, attendees wrote messages in solidarity with the cause, both in chalk on the concrete surrounding the Homer statue as well as on sticky notes that they stuck directly on the statue.
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