With a mask on and a sign in hand reading, “A man was lynched yesterday,” Alex Ushry, a third-year in finance, marched through downtown Columbus Thursday alongside hundreds of protesters to express their frustrations over the death of George Floyd and to demand change.
“It’s like you’re proud to be a black man, but at the same time, you’re scared to be one too,” Ushry, treasurer of the Black Student Association and member of black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi Incorporated, said.
A video circulated of Floyd, who died in the hospital while in police custody Monday after a former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, arrested him for allegedly using a fake bill. Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed to the ground for several minutes, pleading, “I can’t breathe.”
Floyd’s death and the recent deaths of other African Americans — including Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor — sparked nationwide protests, some turning violent and destructive, from Louisville to Sacramento, California. Many in the black Ohio State community echo the same sentiments of those across the nation.
University President Michael V. Drake said in a tweet Friday that he is “heartsick” at seeing the death of another unarmed man in police custody and that it is an example of “the racism that has crippled our nation.”
“It feels like I have a large target on my back,” Ushry said. “Any day I could get pulled over, or any day I can be suspected for running through a stop sign or something as simple as that and it can escalate so fast and I could just be gone within a minute.”
Judson L. Jeffries, a professor of African American and African Studies at Ohio State, said he’s gotten a number of emails from students in the past 72 hours about Floyd. He said he’s tried to explain to them the history of policing when it comes to law enforcement and the African American community.
“This stuff has been going on for years,” Jeffries said. “The only difference in the last several years is that now everyone and their mother owns a camera cellphone.”
Since the beginning of May, several videos and reports of violence against black men and women have circulated online, adding to the now countless hashtags of black deaths over the last decade. Jeffries said the filming of police use of excessive force goes back to the early 1990s when George Holliday filmed the brutal beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles.
“An interesting commonality between that incident and these incidents that are being filmed now is that when that incident took place, when he stood on his balcony and filmed four LAPD officers tragically beating Rodney King, there was a sentiment in the black community that now we have proof that this stuff happens on a day-to-day basis and that finally, the police are going to get what they deserve,” Jeffries said. “That didn’t turn out to be the case.”
The FBI is investigating the death of Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician, who was shot at least eight times when police forced entry into her Louisville apartment to fulfill a “no-knock” search warrant.
A video filmed by a suspect in the death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery circulated online of a white man shooting Arbery while he was reportedly on a regular run.
“It’s hard to heal when you constantly see these images of black bodies just brutalized,” Mikayla Carter, a fourth-year in psychology and event co-chair for the 43rd African American Heritage Festival at Ohio State, said. “Even when the stories die down, the situations don’t.”
These videos can often cause more distress, Carter said.
“When people repost videos, and it’s — just imagine being their family and having to see your family member’s death be played out over and over, and sensationalized,” Carter said.
The distress has not only been had on students but staff and faculty members as well, James Moore, vice provost for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said.
“I’m hurting because it says to me, ‘How could so much hate attack innocence?’” Moore said. “To watch a man die on social media, man, it’s painful. It’s painful and it’s repetitive. It’s ongoing, and I think there’s a fatigue that I’m noticing among people around the country because it’s becoming repetitive and people want justice.”
In an email sent to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion staff Friday with the subject, “Words of Encouragement,” Moore wrote, “It is exhausting and painful to see the cruelty of the world directed at people who look like me, our relatives, our friends, our co-workers, and/or our neighbors. And for it to come at this time—when we are more alone than ever and frightened by a pandemic bringing death to our doorsteps—makes it even more unsettling.”
Moore said that he has been sending emails and organizing the community to provide support for students and staff, even remotely, with hopes of creating resources that can be accessed online.
“People are mourning, they’re grieving right now as if they actually endured those experiences that we’re seeing across the country,” Moore said. “We need a collective response, not a response only to students. Even though students are an essential part of what we do, many of our staff are feeling the same kinds of sentiments.”
Chauvin was arrested Friday afternoon and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd, according to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
Protests have continued across the state in Dayton, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo and Columbus. On Saturday, a protest is planned for 10 a.m. at the Ohio Statehouse.
“We’ve reached our breaking point,” Ushry said. “Nothing’s going to change today, nothing’s going to change tomorrow, but at some point there will be change. But we don’t know what it’s going to take.”