Every year, when students arrive at Drake’s campus armed with textbooks, laptops and snacks, they also bring with them different experiences and perspectives related to a variety of current issues. One of these topics is the recent rise in Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.
Within several days of Floyd’s death, Joe Yesufu, a sophomore at Drake, attended a violent protest in Chicago in which police deployed tear gas and fought with protesters. Yesufu said that he was not personally involved with the rioting, but he does not condemn it.
“I personally don’t have a problem with [rioting],” Yesufu said. “Other people do.”
To Yesufu, the damage caused by rioting is overshadowed by cases of African Americans who died from police brutality.
“It’s been going on for hundreds of years,” Yesufu said about the oppression of African Americans in America. “Time for them to stop.”
First-year student Rachel Shugarts, on the other hand, attended a peaceful protest in her hometown of Gurnee, Ill. in June. The demonstration was organized by students from Shugarts’ high school. Shugarts and other members of the community took a knee while listening to a student who lived on Shugarts’ street read off names of African Americans who were killed by police brutality.
Shugarts described the mood of the protesters as “pretty respectful.” According to Shugarts, Gurnee’s police department directed traffic for the protest, and a police sergeant was one of the speakers.
“You hear all of these protests that are violent on the news, and you don’t see the peaceful ones,” Shugarts said. “And, I know this was a smaller town, but it was really nice, and eye-opening to see for myself what a peaceful protest was like.”
However, Shugarts is not entirely opposed to the rioting that has taken place at Black Lives Matter protests.
“I think the rioting/looting and destruction isn’t great but neither is the systematic racism and police brutality that Black people have been facing for so long,” Shugarts said.
Drake first-year John Humphrey is more definitively opposed to the rioting.
“I think that protests should remain peaceful,” Humphrey said. “I believe that riots cause more damage than they do good.”
First-year Nick Sidor echoed this sentiment.
“It just puts a negative light on yourself or the entire movement,” Sidor said.
Taylor Fisher, a junior at Drake, attended two protests in August: a protest in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 23 and a march to Des Moines City Councilman’s house on Aug. 29.
During the latter, the protesters made demands that included defunding the Des Moines Police Department and the formation of a civilian review board that would review actions taken by the DMPD.
“One of the good things I like to tell people who are considering going to a protest is like, the community of people there is so awesome,” Fisher said. “They’re very supportive and they make sure that everyone’s safe.”
While Drake sophomore Okay Djamgouz doesn’t agree with rioting for the Black Lives Matter cause, he supports the movement as a whole.
“Whatever happens to raise awareness and make change, I support, a hundred percent,” Djamgouz said.
Fisher believes that African Americans should take the lead in the Black Lives Matter movement. In her opinion, white protesters should not lead chants or decide how African Americans should protest.
“I think as a white person it’s not my place to decide how the movement continues,” Fisher said. “I think that I can be an important voice but I think I shouldn’t be the main voice and I should be listening to people who’ve experienced the oppression before I put in my voice.”
Djamgouz, who is from Toronto, Canada, noted that it is important to consider the Black Lives Matter movement in a wider context.
“It’s not just an American thing, it’s a global thing,” Djamgouz said.
Djamgouz, Humphrey and Sidor all want to see police departments increase the amount of training and vetting that their officers undergo. Fisher wants to see the police abolished and replaced by other emergency services, such as Emergency Medical Technicians and social workers. Similarly, Yesufu wants to see the police dissolved if police brutality continues.
“The police don’t need to respond to certain calls, like a drug overdose shouldn’t have a police respond to that, there’s other people who can do that job, probably better than a police, and can do it with less bias than a police could,” Fisher said. “So I really think that we should completely abolish the police.”
Shugarts falls somewhere in the middle of those two viewpoints.
“You need some kind of authoritative organization in place, but definitely not one with so much funding,” Sugarts said.
Whatever changes are made as a result of the Black Lives Matter protests, students seem to agree it’s not going to be an easy process.
“It’s going to have to start with people at the top, who feel the same way that we do,” said Djamgouz.
Sidor said that while he hopes to see change, he knows there is no perfect solution.
“I don’t know what will come out of these protests, because there’s no perfect solution,” Sidor said. “In a perfect world, there would be no police brutality, but we don’t live in a perfect world.”
Sept. 14, 2020: updated for clarification