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In our stern voices, we chanted: “Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter!”
Confused, boisterous, and starkly naked, they replied: “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
During this year’s Primal Scream, we were a part of a group of students who stood in front of Hollis Hall as part of a peaceful protest in response to the recent non-indictment of Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo, police officers who are responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively.
With the support of the administration, we hoped to delay primal scream with a 4.5-minute moment of silence, symbolic of the 4.5 hours that Brown’s body lay on the street after his death. Black lives matter, and we wanted to engage the larger Harvard community on some of the most salient issues of our time: systemic racism, oppression, and brutality on black and brown bodies. And yet, to our dismay, the efforts of several administrators who rallied for students to respect the moment of silence were muted by the chanting of the naked mass. Moments later, primal screamers ignored our request for the moment of silence and, with us blocking their typical counter-clockwise path, ran the opposite way, only to finish where they had started: face-to-face with chants of “Black Lives Matter!”
We are not sure under what pretense the U.S.A. chants came in reply to our calls for justice, as we know the traditional occurrence of U.S.A. chants at primal scream. We are not sure of the full intention behind the sneers, the annoyed side comments, and the profanities that were thrown at the faces of peaceful protestors. We know the festivities that occur in conjunction with primal scream. We know that there was a considerable amount of confusion surrounding the event and its purpose. And we know, indeed, that many people during primal scream are not completely sober.
But we are sure of our disappointment. We are sure of our discomfort, as demonstrators encountered profanity, physical assaults, and gestures of obscenity. We are sure of our unease, as we witnessed many primal screamers disrespect us and the administration who supported our peaceful protest. We are sure of our collective anger by the extreme lack of sensitivity for 4.5 minutes—just 4.5 minutes—of silence for Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Aiyana Stanley Jones, Tamir Rice, and the countless others who have suffered and died at the hands of reckless and racist law enforcement.
This peaceful protest is not inhibiting the fun of our classmates. As peaceful protesters, we asked for their respect as our peers, many of whom we consider friends. Primal scream brings together hundreds of students on Harvard’s campus. There have been peaceful protests on campus already, and yet none of them reached this vast number of people. As the protest organizers have outlined, the protest “provides a venue to reach people not part of that self-selecting group of students who would attend a protest in the first place; the protest is an invitation and an opportunity for these students to stand with their classmates in solidarity and critique the entrenched privileges that they may find themselves heirs of.”
The response we attained was far from ideal. But our hope and fervor in proclaiming our message remains unwavering. The disrespect we experienced this night stands as a testament to why we need to continue our work as advocates for black lives and activists against an oppressive criminal justice system. During this night, running naked throughout Harvard Yard was prioritized over standing in silence in solidarity with classmates, classmates who are personally affected by the recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Staten Island, and Cleveland. These misplaced priorities are indicative of why our protests for the recognition of black lives will continue to matter.
We have peacefully protested in the streets of Cambridge, Boston, New York, and elsewhere: “Hands up! Don’t shoot! Hands up! Don’t shoot!”
We have peacefully protested in front of the John Harvard Statue: “No justice! No peace! No racist police!”
We have peacefully protested on all floors of Lamont Library: “If we don’t get it, shut it down!”
We have peacefully protested in front of the naked mass of Primal Scream: “Eric Garner! Michael Brown! Shut this racist system down!”
And we will continue to protest in support of the notion that black lives matter. Our voices ring with knowledge that we do not live in a post-racial society. The time to stop death and violence on black and brown bodies is now.
Black. Lives. Matter.
We hope that one day you will join us in chanting and believing the same.
David Boone Jr. ’16 is a computer science concentrator in Eliot House. Bernadette N. Lim ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, is a joint human evolutionary biology and women, gender and sexuality studies concentrator in Dunster House.
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