Community members gathered Monday on the steps of Sproul Hall for a vigil to commemorate Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, two Black men killed by police officers last week.
At the vigil, about 300 members of the Berkeley community gathered in solidarity, many of them holding signs that read “Black Lives Matter.” An open mic gave people the opportunity to express themselves to the crowd and many elected to sing, read poetry and speak.
“I saw a dramatic amount of pain online from friends and family,” said ASUC Senator Zaynab AbdulQadir, one of the event’s sponsors, adding that although social media makes it possible for people to see instances of police violence, it can be “traumatic to scroll through.”
The event was also sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union and the African American Student Development Office, with the support of the Black Staff and Faculty Organization.
More than 30 people spoke and performed for the community, including Vice Chancellor of Equity and Inclusion Na’ilah Nasir.
“This is not Black people against white people. This is not Black people against police. This is Americans fighting for justice,” Nasir said.
Castile, a 32-year-old school staff member, was shot and killed at a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, on July 6 while he reached for his license. The day before, Sterling, 37, was shot and killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as officers were arresting him in response to a report about an armed man.
Videos of both incidents were widely circulated through social media, bringing issues of systemic racism and police brutality once again to the forefront of national discussion. In response, multiple protests have erupted around the country, including one in Oakland that shut down Interstate 880.
Nzingha Dugas, the director of the African American Student Development Office and one of the event’s facilitators, told the audience that the vigil was meant to be a space of healing and listening.
“It’s important to make sure you know there are other people feeling the same as you and that you have ample support,” said AJ Moultrie, campus third-year student and Black Student Union communications director.
The vigil was followed by two separate community healing circles, one for Black people and the other for allies. Community healing circles are spaces where community members can express grief and anguish while also critically discussing issues in a supportive environment.
According to Moultrie, the vigil and healing circle were not only in response to the recent killings of Castile and Sterling, but to a system of racial oppression that continues to target Black people — a sentiment emphasized by many others who spoke and performed.
“We can’t completely heal because we’re still under attack at all times,” Moultrie said.
Contact Karim Doumar at [email protected].
A previous quote contained in this article may have mischaracterized the intent of the speaker.