Demanding that the University of Georgia acknowledge the racism experienced by its students and calling for changes in the criminal justice system, more than 100 UGA students and Athens community members marched down Milledge Avenue on Friday, Oct. 2.
A few protesters drove cars emblazoned with “Abolish the police” and “Black lives matter” messages on their windows, while the rest walked or skateboarded. The protest was organized by the same group of students that led a protest at the UGA Arch and through downtown Athens in late September.
The protesters’ list of demands were similar to those of their last protest—reforming the UGA Equal Opportunity Office, shifting funds away from the Athens-Clarke County Police Department toward other community resources and giving scholarships to Black descendants of slaves—but the abolition of Greek life and implementation of student participation in the appointment of UGA’s presidents were added to the list.
“There are so many swaths of the UGA population that administration flippantly ignores,” said student organizer Hayes Taylor, referring to UGA’s lack of action regarding a racist Lambda Chi Alpha group chat directed at a Black female student, and white individuals who hacked a Hispanic Student Association Zoom call to spew derogatory phrases, to reference two recent incidents.
The organizers chose to go down Milledge Avenue after an altercation at their last protest in September, when a protester motioned for a group of white, college-aged men sitting in the back of a truck to raise their fists in solidarity. The protesters went past UGA fraternity and sorority houses in the hopes of “making Black Lives Matter and the issues we’re trying to deal with real to predominantly white Greek-life people,” Taylor said.
Taking part in the protest after being on the receiving end of racist comments and threats herself, Arianna Mbunwe, a vocal UGA student with a large following on Twitter, said she hopes the protest made Greek-life members “uncomfortable” by bringing attention to the issue of systemic racism.
“It felt really good to march down Milledge and demand justice for people who probably haven’t talked about what happened when they were in Greek life or who have been victimized by Greek life,” Mbunwe said. “UGA needs to take a hard look at itself and ask, ‘Is this who we strive to be? Is this the Georgia way?’”
The protest continued all the way down to Five Points, with ACCPD officers camping out on side streets and circling around the area. Police officers gave traffic tickets to at least four protesters, including Zachary Perry, who’s running in the Georgia State Senate District 46 race to unseat incumbent Republican Bill Cowsert.
“Athens has a long history of systemic racism and the university, as well as the local government, turning a blind eye to systemic racism,” said Perry, who was cycling between the front and back of the protest and directing traffic. “Thankfully, we’re getting a more progressive local government, but the university still refuses to acknowledge its history with racism, slavery and the current reality of racism on campus.”
Leading the car caravan through traffic at the start of the protest, ACC Commissioner Mariah Parker was pulled over by ACCPD and given a ticket for driving in a turning lane as the protest wrapped up. In regard to the other drivers pulled over during the protest, Parker said ACCPD will “pull people over for literally anything,” as the officers are “looking for blood, trying to make their quotas [and] trying to feed their egos.”
Although the protest was planned beforehand, it came on the heels of a viral Twitter video showing a Black UGA student being forcefully detained. (The tweet has since been deleted, but not before being viewed more than 120,000 times.) Police used a stun gun on student London Best, who had been involved in a verbal altercation with a bouncer at a downtown bar, according to a police report. It appeared in the video that Best was complying with police when he was electroshocked, and it drew condemnation from thousands of people online, including Parker.
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