Now, a month later, those students — Hiwot Hailu, Callie Malone, Jocelyn Purdie, and Rachael Chestnut — are still working to create a dialogue around police brutality. It is a movement that Hailu and friends playfully refer to as the ‘Justice League’.
As the first of her Ethiopian family to be born in America, Hailu had always been exposed to ideas of social justice.
“My whole family kind of does this,” said Hailu. “I think it’s always just been in my mind and in the environment that I’m in. So, when the opportunity presented itself to make my voice heard, I jumped on it.”
Hailu found her voice shortly after the death of Keith Lamont Scott. Mr. Scott was shot and killed by a Charlotte police officer, rekindling the argument that police officers use lethal force too liberally, specifically when dealing with African-American men.
What started out as a discussion between Hailu and her friends over coffee turned into a movement they were proud of. “We actually came together the morning after Keith Scott was killed. I had come from my morning class,” says Callie Malone, a student from Tallahassee, Florida, double majoring in creative writing and English literature. “We started talking about having some kind of vigil, demonstration, or something to have on campus so people could mourn and process together. Then Hiwot walked up, and we started talking to her about it. And then Rachael. Next thing I knew, we were up in Morrison organizing.”
The four undergraduates wrote up their plan of action in Morrison and started making signs, texting all their friends to spread the word and come out and support their demonstration.
“We weren’t thinking it was gonna be a lot of people. So the fact that we were able to wrap around Trexler was huge for us,” said Jocelyn Purdie, junior English major and cheerleader from Charlotte.
The vigil had its share of feedback, positive and negative. For some organizers, pushback is a kind of affirmation.
“We had a few people that weren’t necessarily a part of the demonstration, that felt differently about what’s going on,” Purdie continued, “You’re always gonna get backlash. I feel like if you don’t get backlash then you’re not doing something right.”
Others, however, are still getting their sea legs with organizing movements like this.
“It’s really emotionally taxing for people to keep doing advocacy work,” said Malone. “We’re working on a panel right now and possibly putting some art around Charlotte and Queens to promote awareness, but we’re struggling to juggle all of this with midterms, work, practice, and school.”
Members of the Justice League have noticed discussion has died down and encourage further conversations to be held on police brutality. “It’s not just me or a group demanding something,” said Hailu. “We want to be able to discuss what it is that’s happening.”