"31 Candles Out, 31 Lives Lost"
The crowd was scarce but its voice was heard. The wind forcefully blew the candles those assembled held out, but the candles' symbolism was still felt, even if their warmth was not.
Fight the Power UB held a candlelight vigil and march through the University Heights Monday night, memorializing 31 victims of racial profiling or police brutality. The club previously held a rally raising awareness for Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black teenager shot to death in Florida. Martin was the 31st name to be read aloud on Monday.
The crowd looked up toward William Richardson, a senior sociology major, and his younger sister as the two read the 31 names, followed by the causes of each death.
"Orlando Barlow: shot by a Las Vegas PD officer as he was on his knees surrendering."
The rally was not held only to raise awareness of the Trayvon Martin case, although that was an important aspect. It was also held to shed light on the racial profiling and discrimination that occurs throughout the entire nation as well as in Buffalo on a daily basis, according to Richardson.
The walk was about being part of a beginning - not just another small moment where people get frustrated but do nothing, according to Richardson.
"This [rally was] important because it exemplifies that racism and profiling people, it still exists, it's still alive," said Jade Lewis, a junior environmental design and political science major. "Even if it may not be as blatant, in your face as maybe back in the civil rights era, it's still here."
These young people had their lives taken. Whether they were guilty of a minor crime or just assumed to be guilty, their families were destroyed and their communities were shattered, according to Lewis.
"Jean Charles de Menezes: 27-year-old Brazilian male mistaken for a bomber, killed by police."
It seems unfair to Lewis that many of her friends are unable to feel safe walking down their own streets. It's unfair, in her mind, that no matter how much they might excel in school, how far they travel down a career path, someone might be there judging them - looking at them as though they were criminals.
"It's not fair just to be targeted because you are born a certain way," Lewis said. "You can't decide who you are, you're just born."
Richardson feels that what happened to Trayvon Martin could have easily happened to him. It could have been his name.
It's not as though these problems are not present in Buffalo, according to Richardson. Although the Martin and Zimmerman altercation occurred in Florida, Richardson wanted to connect something that might seem disconnected to UB students and transform it into a local issue.
While Fight the Power UB held a rally for Trayvon Martin and 31 victims around the nation, the organization is also making noise for the unspoken people in this area that have been affected by the same problems.
"Fred Hampton: In 1969, the 21-year-old leader of the Black Panther Party was killed in his bed by Chicago Police in a raid while he was sleeping next to his pregnant wife."
As the small group marched down Main Street, it wanted its purpose and presence felt. They wanted their voices heard.
The group is just beginning its journey to making a change in Buffalo, starting at UB. Richardson wants to start by working on issues of abuses concerning authority figures.
In the near future, Fight the Power UB will be holding their first social justice commentary - various groups at UB will come together and have a discussion on racial profiling and police violence. One group attending will be conservatives who, Richardson believes, will talk about their perspective on these issues and sustain a productive conversation.
During this commentary, Richardson hopes to lay down the foundation for a student-controlled council that will allow students to report issues that the UB police aren't addressing well, or just strictly ignoring. It's not just racial profiling and discrimination that the club is concerned with, but hate speech and sexual assault - all problems that UB students are faced with.
"If a professor says something that is racist or sexist or homophobic in class, we will come to your class with you and show them that students will not stand for it, whether you had a ph.D or not," Richardson said. "If you have been involved in sexual misconduct [or] sexual crimes and if you feel you can't go to anybody, we will come out there and make sure the UB police take up your case."
Everyone deserves to feel safe on his or her college campus, Lewis said, and they also deserve to feel safe in the city in which they live. One of the main problems with crimes on campus is that they aren't being solved, instead their being swept under the rug, Lewis said. Students shouldn't come to college and fear victimization.
"Aiyana Jones: 7-year-old child killed when police mistakenly raided the wrong house."
Another issue that the club shed light on was UB as part of the Buffalo community. That's something that students need to remember when they see other members of the Buffalo community - not to alienate them and make them feel criminal for walking around their own city, according to Lewis.
John Washington, a member of the Buffalo community, attended the rally. He wanted to highlight how the Trayvon Martin case related to everyone as individuals and as U.S. citizens.
"This issue really brings to light the larger infrastructure of injustice in this country and the fact that we [need to] pay attention to what our government is doing," Washington said.
Eighteen thousand children were suspended in the Buffalo school system last year for non-violent offenses, Washington said. One 15-year-old black male, Jawaan Daniels was one of those suspended after wandering the halls of his High School. As he waited at the bus stop, Daniels was shot and killed.
"Everyone came out today because at the bottom line, it's humans that we're talking about," Lewis said.
Whether you're from the African-American community or not, the Trayvon Martin case is something that affects everyone, Lewis said. The crowd might not have all been of the same race, but they were all human.
As the rally drew to a close, Richardson concluded his speech by calling for the members of the crowd to blow out their candles together. Each candle represented someone who could not stick up for themselves, Richardson said, and Fight the Power UB will continue to work toward social change to ensure that they never have to blow out another candle again. As the lights blew out, their message stayed burning bright.
"Trayvon Martin 17-year-old male killed in Florida by community watchman."