The Day After The Die In

On this day, the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder by the state, nearly one month after Sandra Bland died in police custody in my home state, and two days after Christian Taylor’s murder by an officer in training just a few miles from my where I grew up, I am unable to write a respectable essay about respectable college protests. The original version of the piece told a story of a well thought out plan that ended in a coming together of communities. That is not true. In the original version of this essay I painted myself as a young activist who found clarity. That is not true. This is simply an effort to tell the truth. There is no room for lies in liberation.

            Last December, with the help of Jasmine Graham, and Faith Carter, two student activists and incredible Black women, I organized a Die-In on the University of Texas’ campus in response to a Staten Island grand jury’s decision to not indict Eric Garner’s murderer. Just two weeks after receiving the news that Michael Brown’s murderer, Darren Wilson, would also not be indicted, I immediately felt a rush of anger. I was not frustrated, or concerned. I was furious. That night I created a Facebook event titled, “DIE IN #SHUTITDOWN for Eric Garner”. The main goal was to have Black protestors lie in the biggest intersection on campus at a time of high traffic to effectively, shut it down, mirroring other protests I had seen in the media. Within a few hours over 600 people had RSVP’d, many more than I expected.  Just 15 hours after considering the idea, Black students, professors, and university staff lay on the pavement of 21st street on a rainy day in Austin, Texas. As the bell from the tower rung out, non-black protestors joined in as we stood and chanted, “Black lives matter,” in the center of the campus of a university infamous for bleach bombs targeted at Black and Brown students, and its fierce dedication to the remembrance of the Confederacy.

            When the protest ended I hugged my friends, I spoke to a news crew, and then I went back to class. I am not sure who called the news crew but they were there. When we arrived at the intersection the campus police had it blocked off. I am not sure who alerted them. There were people with tables advocating for causes I was unfamiliar with. I could say I felt invigorated by the energy of so many people gathered to protest the issue of Black genocide in America. I could say that I felt proud of my fellow Black student body for being so supportive. I could say that I felt that perhaps the people involved or uninvolved were some how moved by our actions. All of those things may be true, but the truest thing I felt after leaving that protest was lost. I sat in class unable to focus, thinking, “What actually just happened?”

            On the night that I created the Facebook event, I received many messages from white “allies”. They questioned, “What should white people do during the protest?” I answered, “De-center yourselves”. They questioned, “I feel uncomfortable being involved in this protest.” I answered, “Don’t come.” They questioned, “Are you sure this is the best way to show support?” I didn’t answer. After the twentieth message from allies more concerned with their own roles in the die-in than with anything else, I stopped answering. After receiving so many notifications that my phone rebooted itself, from folks demanding that in the middle of organizing, I immediately address their questions, I deeply considered cancelling the protest. With the exception of UT’s Palestine Solidarity Committee, my inbox was crawling with non-Black allies’ suggestions of creating a more respectable protest. How could a protest against Black genocide happen at a university with a Black student population of less than four percent, in the most economically segregated city in the country? Even in the midst of resistance I found myself bombarded by the overwhelming need to bow to white comfort. I folded and opened a message. A white ally suggested that non-Black protesters stand in a circle of protection around the Black bodies on the ground. I agreed, regrettably.

            Just hours after we lay on the asphalt for Eric Garner, I got word of the murder of Rumain Brisbon in Arizona. As I read the article about yet another unarmed Black person shot down by a cop, a professor approaches me to share her thoughts on the protest. She described the die-in as peaceful and applauded my, dignity and respect .She said that she had heard from a campus police officer that the protest went off without a hitch and that she didn’t expect anything less from UT students. I quickly made an excuse to leave the conversation.

             The day after the protest, I walked to my final class of the semester. As I entered a room that held one of the four Black studies courses I was taking that term, I heard students sharing their thoughts on the protest. One student says, “I couldn’t make it I had class, it was over quick.” Another shares, “I felt more unified than I ever have on campus.” The last student says, “Are we going to keep patting ourselves on the back for laying down for 15 minutes in the street? Wasn’t no cars coming! We wasn’t really doing anything. Nothing’s changed. I’m still just as scared one of these racist ass students could just walk up to me and shoot me. Why don’t we protest that?” As of June 1, 2015, Texas has passed the “campus carry” legislation, allowing concealed weapons on campus.

             In the months since the die-in I have not again organized a traditional protest. I have created activist theater, and travelled to Brazil for activist research, but I have not felt compelled to organize in the same way. The original version of this essay ended with a lesson I didn’t actually learn. This version ends with a few truths.

 The truth is I shunned a group of non-Black student activists whose pet project was police brutality, and their attempts to make me their mascot. The truth is I grew tired of the white gaze. The truth is it really did feel liberating to stand in a circle facing my peers and hear them say “Black Lives Matter” repeatedly. The truth is I know a white editor is proof reading, and a white audience is critiquing this. There’s the white gaze again. The truth is The Autobiography of Assata Shakur has all the tools to lead to liberation. The truth is there has been no tangible change on campus since the protest. The truth is I’m not sure if this is helpful, or interesting, or good for the cause, or the right thing to write, but this is the truth.

Tyler English-Beckwith