The KU Black Student Coalition (KUBSC), in collaboration with the Jayhawker Liberation Front and the KU Black Student Union, held a Ceremony of Silence for victims of police brutality across the nation on Friday, April 23. The event, which was held outside Strong Hall on the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence, Kansas, included brief speeches, a space for silence and the reading of the names, dates of birth and death, and location and reason of death for over 170 individuals killed by police.
Keir Rudolph, a senior elementary education major at KU and the vice president of the Black Student Coalition, said the hope for the event was “to create that safe space of silence and reflection and recollection.”
Rudolph said it was important to hold the event on KU’s campus as a way of supporting and holding space for students of color.
“Sometimes, when you attend to predominately white institution, especially like KU, you kind of just feel like you're ignored and invisible,” he said. “Even when the provost or other administration sends out messages, they're always either lukewarm or they always ignore the real issue at hand, and they don't specifically call out racism or bigotry.”
“I know that if I'm one student feeling it, then other students of color also most definitely feel it,” he explained. “So I think just organizing that space around is…why I do (events like this), from a student's perspective.”
Rudolph said it was important to him to read not only the names, but also the locations and causes of death for victims of police brutality. He said including details such as location helped highlight the many places across the nation that have a longstanding “policing problem.”
“You can see that the police are in fact serving their role which is not to serve and protect, but to murder and kill to serve and protect the ruling class,” he said.
“The police are a reactive force at best, because the crime’s already happening,” he said. “So if that's the case, then we need to…divert the money from the police into a situation to where we can start becoming a proactive society and adjusting the things that are causing these crimes.”
“It's hard to imagine because I've been socialized for it, but people need to start to imagine that protection doesn't necessarily mean that you got to shoot this person down,” he said. “You can definitely abolish the police and still find ways to protect your community.”
Other Actions Address Lack of Admin Support
The KU Black Student Coalition also recently led a sit-in of Strong Hall following budget cuts, changes to the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, and the firing of multiple BIPOC faculty and staff.
“Those were to get the provost’s attention,” Rudolph said of protest actions like the sit-in. For KUBSC, “attention” includes response to national issues, but also issues specific to KU. Rudolph said un- or under-investigated incidents of racism or sexual assault on campus and lack of recruitment or support for students of color were all issues addressed at earlier actions.
Rudolph said the burden of supporting students through recent events, such as the murders of Daunte Wright and Ma’Khia Bryant, has repeatedly fallen on people of color, including student groups like KUBSC as well as faculty and staff of color across campus.
“It seems like admin is just leaving that up to the people of color to do the work themselves,” he said. “It just lands on us the students of color that you'd like us to do the work and...hold that space.”
Rudolph said that while he will be graduating this year and leaving KU, he is confident that other members of KUBSC and other groups will continue working for campus change and to support Black students, including through events like the Ceremony of Silence.