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Athens Residents March for Change in Response to Breonna Taylor

Protesters marched downtown on Sept. 25 to call for criminal justice reform in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s death at the hands of police. Credit: Tyler Wilkins

Hundreds of University of Georgia students and Athens residents marched through downtown streets on Friday, Sept. 25, in response to the recent grand jury decision to charge just one of three Louisville, KY police officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman.

On March 13, police used a battering ram to enter Taylor’s apartment to conduct a search warrant after midnight, based on inaccurate information that an ex-boyfriend was shipping drugs there. Her current boyfriend, not knowing the men breaking in were police, fired a gun. Two of the officers responded by shooting and killing Taylor. No drugs were found. A grand jury indicted one of the officers on charges of wanton endangerment on Sept. 23 for firing shots into a neighboring apartment, but none of the three were charged in connection with Taylor’s death.

“I didn’t believe it,” said Josh Stinson, one of the protest’s student organizers. “They got charged for the shots they missed, not for the shots they hit. We have to try to band together and show something, because what else are we supposed to do? We’re not trying to be violent; we’re trying to be peaceful.”

Stinson was one of several University of Georgia students in a group chat who organized the protest. The students created a list of demands for Athens-Clarke County and UGA, which include giving scholarships to Black descendants of slaves, renaming UGA buildings with racist histories, forming a more “robust and representative” Equal Opportunity Office, implementing more extensive and continuous diversity training for UGA and ACC police departments, effecting the resignation of UGA President Jere Morehead, and shifting resources away from the ACCPD toward community resources.

Much of the evening consisted of protesters marching in downtown streets while interrupting traffic and standing in the median and on both sides of Broad Street by the UGA Arch, chanting phrases for racial justice, like “Say her name, Breonna Taylor,” “No cops, no KKK, no fascist USA,” and “No justice, no peace.” During the protest, many downtown drivers raised their fists outside of their windows and honked in solidarity with the protesters’ message, while a few drivers hastily sped off after navigating around protesters in the street. The protesters also marched to North Campus, where, at the UGA Chapel, they voiced their anger over racial and social injustice in both Athens and abroad.

In addressing the crowd, Stinson said they must “be the change we want to see in the world,” calling for people to vote and educate their friends about the Black Lives Matter movement while protesting “nicely, not violently.” He said he hopes for a higher turnout at forthcoming protests.

“The system that we currently have could never bring justice for Breonna Taylor,” said ACC Commissioner Mariah Parker, who led many of the chants on the median and streets. “Even if they were to send those men to jail for the rest of their lives, it would not stop this from happening ever again. And so we must demand not just reform but replacement of the system we have today.”

Cailean Shelley, an anthropology and sociology student at UGA, spoke about the oppression people of color face in the U.S. He called for unity to “overthrow the systems that uphold institutionalized oppression, not only to establish equality but equity as well.” He said that although he’s gay, he benefits from the privilege of being a white man. 

“Recognize your privilege in the system every day, and use your privilege to speak out against injustice every chance you get,” Shelley said. “Dismantle the system from within. Don’t do it for clout or for being a white savior; do it because it is right.”

Ny’Asia Keys, a marketing student at UGA, went to the protest with a group after seeing a flyer for it. She said she’s concerned with the criminal justice system and racism at UGA. “I think it was able to bring more attention to the people at the top of the system, so that they can maybe try to work on reforming our school, because we do have a very racist environment” Keys said. “It’s important for us to keep fighting for this, because if we don’t, nothing will change.”