After four days of feeling unheard by Eastern Michigan University administration, students of color assembled at EMU’s football game in all black clothing to demonstrate for racial injustice on campus, following two separate messages of racist hate speech being found.
“Do I have to write something on a building in order to get noticed,” said Chelsea Dixon, Health Administration major.
Before the game 10 non-EMU police cars were parked in front of the main entrance to the Rynearson Stadium, in addition to the EMU police being dispersed around the area. Police personnel could also be seen at the top of the bleachers and in between the bleachers and the football field. The atmosphere resemble a war zone.
“We asked for additional help for tonight’s game because we received word of a potential threat of a protest,” said Chief Heighes, EMU Department of Public Safety.
EMU administration and authorities made a joint decision with athletics to keep the football team indoors during the national anthem, and to also keep the band indoors and instead to play a recording of the national anthem. The group of about 200 student demonstrators remained seated with their fist raised during the recorded version of the national anthem.
“I’ve been at Eastern for five years and this is the most police I have ever seen at a football game, and why? Because we are here. We are in classes and we are just expected to act like everything's normal and I’m not standing for it,” said Demajae Murray.
Throughout the first half of the game demonstrators chanted from the student section, "If one more eagle try to stop me, it’s gon' be some protesters in your lobby,” “Hey hey, ho ho, these racist slurs have got to go,” and “Black Lives Matter." The game proceeded as normal. The student section was visually divided between student demonstrators in black clothing, and the other students cheering for the game.
“Just because you go to college that doesn’t mean that that cuts you off from the real world, that is a bullshit theory,” said Sierra Whitcher, Communications Chair of Black Lives Matter Detroit, “We’re reflections of the real world. We come with our real world experiences onto a campus. When people come from the outside world with those racist and anti-black feelings and are in one space with black people, things are going to come up, and they are going to push back.”
During halftime of the game the demonstration mobilized from the student section, to the lobby of the stadium, to over a fence, which ended them on a grassy hill behind the south end zone, where they were met by authorities. Authorities pushed back as demonstrators began climbing over the fence to lock arms on the grassy hill behind the end zone. Demonstrators were told by authorities they would be arrested for disrupting the peace if they came over the fence. The amount of demonstrators over the fence continued to grow while demonstrators projected their frustration.
“Why can’t we stand here? We are being peaceful. We are not doing anything to anyone. We did not want to disrupt yall, but we have something to say. It’s a lot going on in America. We are peacefully standing here but yall have a problem with that, and that’s our problem” said Toya Dennis, social work major.
The standoff between authorities and the assembled students attracted administration present at the game to the scene. EMU President James Smith, EMU Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Chiara Hensley and EMU Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Calvin Phillips met the assembly as the standoff between authorities and the students continued. The demonstration originally planned to walk the track during halftime, but were not allowed to by administration or authorities.
“Why don't ya’ll stand with us,” shouted demonstrators to EMU administration.
“I don’t believe in going on the field to get arrested. I’m in belief of what they’re saying, but not with coming across the field and getting arrested. Change doesn’t happen right away,” replied Calvin Phillips, EMU Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, “In the meantime students should work with us by communicating the key things they want to see done at the University, so we can be able to determine where these resolutions need to go.”
As the second half of the game progressed the assembly of students continued to chant and pushed further down the hill, stopping on the edge of the grass right before the track because stepping on the track had been labeled as disrupting the peace. After dialog between students and administration the assembly was allowed to walk the field after the game clock hit zero.
The assembly of students spread out almost the width of the field and locked arms as they walked across the whole field before congregating in front of the remaining EMU audience still in the bleachers. Students began to chant, "If one more eagle try to stop me, it’s gon' be some protesters in your lobby,” “Hey hey, ho ho, these racist slurs have got to go,” “We gon' be alright,” and “Black Lives Matter."