AJC On Campus: Racial unrest impacts students, schools

Attorney Mawuli Mel Davis (left) speaks on behalf of Taniyah Pilgrim (second from left) and Messiah Young (second from right)during a press conference by the Fulton County District Attorney's Office in Atlanta, Monday, June 2, 2020. District Attorney Paul Howard and members of the Fulton County District Attorney's Office are pressing charges against 6 Atlanta Police Officers for their involvement in the assault and property damage to Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young.  Attorney Mawuli Mel Davis is representing Messiah Young. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Attorney Mawuli Mel Davis (left) speaks on behalf of Taniyah Pilgrim (second from left) and Messiah Young (second from right)during a press conference by the Fulton County District Attorney's Office in Atlanta, Monday, June 2, 2020. District Attorney Paul Howard and members of the Fulton County District Attorney's Office are pressing charges against 6 Atlanta Police Officers for their involvement in the assault and property damage to Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young. Attorney Mawuli Mel Davis is representing Messiah Young. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

The recent days have been difficult for the nation, and for some of Atlanta’s colleges and universities.

Here’s a breakdown of some recent developments:

  • Two Atlanta police officers were fired Sunday following an incident where the two officers tased a Spelman College student and a Morehouse College student Saturday night following the city's curfew crackdown. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard on Tuesday announced criminal charges against the two officers and four others.
  • Several Georgia State University buildings on its Atlanta campus were vandalized Friday, including the Aderhold Learning Center, the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies and Rialto Center for the Arts.
Georgia State University's Rialto Center for the Arts was one of several buildings damaged or vandalized on Friday, May 29, 2020 by some violent protesters. ERIC STIRGUS / ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM.
Georgia State University's Rialto Center for the Arts was one of several buildings damaged or vandalized on Friday, May 29, 2020 by some violent protesters. ERIC STIRGUS / ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM.

  • A few Georgia Tech police vehicles were damaged, including a SUV that was burned on Park Avenue near Marietta Street.
  • Emory University is planning an online solidarity vigil on Friday at 4 p.m.
  • Agnes Scott College is planning a series of virtual conversations on "racial healing and transformation."

Here’s some of what leaders from local colleges are saying about the unrest and demonstrations:

Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell:

“What the protesters are protesting is exactly this kind of unacceptable behavior — and that is the disregard, disrespect and aggression that seems to make stalking Black citizens, rather than protecting them, the goal of law enforcement. To say, ‘this has got to stop’ would be tantamount to shouting into the wind. We have said ‘this has got to stop’ too many times. We need to take steps in the coming days, weeks, months and years to change.”

Georgia State President Mark Becker:

“Atlanta’s many decades of peaceful protest and advocacy for social justice have resulted in real and positive change for our society. Georgia State is an example of that change ... We’re on the right track, and through continued hard work and sustained commitment we will together help bring an end to the pain and injustice that ail our society.”

Emory University President Claire Sterk:

“Although we are distanced physically during this pandemic, we strive to stand together in spirit. I hear and acknowledge the pain so many are experiencing, and we grieve and rage along with you.”

Spelman College student Taniyah Pilgrim, who was tased by police:

“We felt like we were going to die in that car.”

Morehouse College student Messiah Young, tased by police with Pilgrim:

“This has truly been one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

Clark Atlanta University President George French, Morehouse College President David A. Thomas, Morehouse School of Medicine President Valerie Montgomery Rice and Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell in a joint statement released Sunday:

“It is clear that the behavior of law enforcement in this country must change. Incidents like the one last night and the many events of police violence (recorded and unrecorded) leading up to today heighten the urgency of this need for change. And we support our students as champions and activists on behalf of change.”

Morehouse College student government association president John Bowers III:

“In the midst of a time that has caused us to be uncertain about our lives, unity is the only medicine that can heal our wounds. Wounds that have been caused by individuals who do not understand the pains they have caused to not only us but generations to come.”

University of Georgia President Jere Morehead:

“In the days ahead, let us move forward in seeking racial justice by practicing acts of kindness, love and understanding, thoughtful listening and constructive dialogue, and by demonstrating our ongoing commitment to do better while working together for a more united and just society.”

Agnes Scott College President Leocadia Zak:

“I recognize that many within our campus community are deeply impacted by this traumatic incident, especially our students, faculty and staff of color for whom these unfortunate events are too often a part of their lived reality. I share in your sorrow and outrage over this injustice.”

Kennesaw State University President Pamela Whitten:

“I know that I am not alone at my university stating unequivocally that there is no room for the existence of or the tolerance for any form of racism. Let us move forward with a goal toward real change. Let us move forward with a sincere commitment to a constructive dialogue where we listen respectfully with a goal toward real change.”

Berry College President Stephen Briggs:

“It is a raw and disturbing image: the knee of a white police officer pressing against the neck of a black man lying face down on the pavement. The image records a bitter truth: the officer and his colleagues ignoring George Floyd as he pleads over and over that he cannot breathe, until he loses consciousness.

This image has galvanized our nation because it also symbolizes a long and brutal history: the knee of the white establishment pressed hard against the necks of black men and women. For decades, people of color have pleaded that the structures imposed on their communities have made it impossible for them to breathe freely. Too often, those in positions of authority and power have ignored or responded superficially to their appeals for help and fairness.

Those of us in the white community sometimes look with disapproval at these appeals because they take a form that we judge unacceptable. Rosa Parks takes a seat at the front of a bus. Colin Kaepernick takes a knee during the National Anthem. A crowd chants in Lafayette Park. We take offense. But before we condemn the methods of those who protest, we should first think hard about the injustice of silence and those three officers who said nothing while George Floyd cried out desperately for help.”

Oglethorpe University President Lawrence Schall and President-Elect Nicholas Ladany:

“We have the agency to create positive change in our city, in our state, and in our country. Our engagement with critical issues in the classroom and in our community allows all of us to be a part of that change. Voting allows us to be a part of that change. Striving to understand the lived experiences of our friends, our classmates, and our colleagues allows us to be a part of that change.

Most importantly, change is predicated on the continued affirmation that the lives of Black people matter at Oglethorpe, in Atlanta, and in this country.”

Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera:

“Last September, we had the privilege to meet, listen to, and honor the first four African American students in the Institute’s history. That day helped me better appreciate our long struggle to become more just and inclusive — and how, by being more just and inclusive, we have become much stronger. Today, we must reflect on how much further we have to go.”