UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union holds vigil, protest for Charleston victims

Tracy Lam/Staff

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Students gathered on campus in a vigil and marched down Telegraph and Shattuck avenues to commemorate nine black people killed Wednesday night in a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.

More than 200 people attended the vigil Thursday night, hosted by the campus’s Black Student Union, and about 50 stayed until the end of the march, when they circled up and blocked the intersection of Shattuck Avenue and Center Street. Members of the BSU led the group in chants, and the protest ended about 10 p.m.

A gunman attacked Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during a Bible study. Police arrested Dylann Roof — whose Facebook profile featured a number of white-power symbols — in connection with the shooting, according to the New York Times.

“As black people, a lot of us do go or have been to a black church,” said Blake Simons, spokesperson for UC Berkeley’s Afrikan Black Coalition and a member of the BSU. “We know people who go to black churches. This is something that hits home to us and makes us realize that we are unsafe in this society.”

The vigil created a sense of community and commonness, said Steven Pitts, a Berkeley resident who attended. It allows for collective reflection and mourning, he said.

“It makes you think about how precious life is — (the victims) could have lived longer, and it’s sad this happened,” said Tymir Taylor, a high school student attending the UC Berkeley Pre-Collegiate Program.

The vigil began on the steps of Sproul Hall. After an introduction by members of the BSU and a moment of silence, the stage was opened up for any attendee to speak his or her mind about the tragedy in Charleston.

The group then gathered into a circle near the Campanile to sing and chant, in solidarity, for the rights of black people.

“Berkeley is a very political place,” said BSU chair Cori McGowens. “When there are injustices, I think Berkeley — especially BSU — always tries to put that on the forefront, so I think to understand the political climate at Berkeley and to see how we get together when things are wrong, I think it’s important.”

The gathering then set out to march south along Telegraph Avenue before turning west onto Ashby Avenue and north onto Shattuck Avenue. When the march reached Center Street, the protesters joined their voices to say the names of the nine victims and to chant, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.”

“A vigil is more a mourning space for everyone to pay respect and commemorate the lives that were taken,” McGowens said. “To come out on the streets is empowering and gives us a sense of pride.”

Contact Kayla Kettman at [email protected].