Student organization increases awareness of police brutality

Mason Force

Michael Nagus, a freshman English major at Colorado State University, writes names of those killed by police in 2017 in Colorado at the Lory Student Center plaza on Oct. 22. The demonstration, organized by Ethnic Studies in Action, is aimed to raise awareness of police brutality. (Seth Bodine |Collegian)

Students gathered to mark 986 deaths by police in America using chalk, and to visualize this number on the Lory Student Center Plaza for each and every one of them.

For the second year running, Ethnic Studies in Action (ESA), a student organization, marked the LSC plaza on Sunday with chalk to list the names of the 64 people killed by police in Colorado, as well as an asterisk for each person killed outside of Colorado by police.  Approximately 10 students with the organization helped throughout the morning to create the chalk display, which covers much of the pavement outside the east entrance to the Lory Student Center.

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The demonstration is part of the National Protest Against Police Brutality Day, a community organized event that originated from groups in Los Angeles who felt targeted by police. Several statistics are listed in addition to the display, and, according to Erica LaFehr, president of the ESA, the 64 people killed by police in Colorado give the state one of the highest levels of police brutality in the nation.

“We’re out here to pay our respects and acknowledge the violence and the lives lost,” LaFehr said. “(We’re here) to help challenge the system so that more people don’t have to die, because people don’t have to die.  We have a whole justice system and due process… people shouldn’t be killed just because maybe they’re breaking the law.”

Last year, the ESA listed the names of every person killed by police in the country, not just those killed in Colorado.  According to LaFehr, this year the usage of the asterisks is both symbolic and practical, as writing the names of all 1093 people killed last year took the group over 5 hours.

“We did it this way because usually when you say 986 people were killed, there is an asterisk that points to a long list of people who lost their lives,” LaFehr said. “We want people to acknowledge and understand that police brutality is something that impacts all of us, regardless of race and gender, but there are disparities in the way that certain identities are policed and killed.”

Statistics for police killings in 2017 are not yet available, but of the 1093 people killed by police in 2016, , according to The Guardian, a disproportionate number were from minority groups.  According to Courtney Satchell, a member of the ESA, this disparity is a major aspect of police killings that her organization is trying to bring to light.

“While police brutality affects all people regardless of race, it does affect some people more depending on race than others,” Satchell said. “So for example, the biggest group that suffers from police brutality is Native Americans, even though they’re a small part of the U.S. population.”

Most of the statistics are only compiled by community members or news organizations, which, according to LaFehr, makes it difficult to obtain data about police killings of people in other groups, such as members of the LGBTQ community.  Statistics from 2016 about police violence can be viewed on a database maintained by the Guardian, which is where the ESA sources much of their information.

Students walking through the plaza this week will have the opportunity to reflect on the number of killings, and for students such as Zoology major Cyrus Salvani, the display is an eye-opener.

“Usually I read about statistics, like a two-digit number, but just seeing how these are actual people and each asterisk is a person helps you realize that it’s more than just a number,” Salvani said.  “It’s so in your face … It’s a reminder that this is still happening in our world today.”

Collegian reporter Mason Force can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @masforce1

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