A caravan of approximately 120 protesters, some on foot and some packed into cars, marched down Milledge Avenue together on Friday evening to decry racism within the University of Georgia, its Greek life organizations and the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.
The protest organizers, a group of UGA students not affiliated with any established group, chose to march down specifically on Milledge Avenue in response to a verbal altercation during their Sept. 25 protest, where a protester attempted to persuade a handful of white, college-age students in the back of a pick-up truck to say Breonna Taylor’s name.
“They were very passive-aggressive towards us, very inconsiderate, so we wanted to make our voices heard,” said organizer Dru Milton. “If you’re gonna do that to us, then we’re going to show up on the streets, do what we do best, and march.”
Since the school reopened, some of UGA’s Greek life organizations have drawn criticism for their party culture in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading their members to pack downtown Athens’ bars.
UGA student Arianna Mbunwe — who has gained social media recognition for speaking out against UGA’s coronavirus response and Greek life’s party culture — attended the protest and hoped it would bring awareness to the harm that Greek life has caused.
The protest came on the heels of the ACCPD’s interaction with Athens resident London Best. After Best was involved in a verbal altercation with a bar employee, ACCPD officers arrested Best after pinning him to the ground and tasing him on Sept. 30.
“My thoughts are fire the cops that assaulted that young man and redistribute the rest of their salaries for the remainder of the year to Black life community organizations that truly prevent crime in our neighborhoods,” District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker said, who attended the event.
The protesters’ demands included abolishing Greek life, reforming the UGA Equal Opportunity Office, shifting 50% of the funding for the ACCPD to community resources, rename UGA buildings with racist histories and more.
The protesters chanted several phrases voicing their demands. Chants of “If you’re listening and you’re Greek, it is justice that we seek,” “White silence is violence” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police” echoed throughout the caravan.
During the protest, at least four protesters were pulled over by police for traffic violations, including Parker and Georgia Senate District 46 Democratic Candidate Zachary Perry. Parker encouraged people who were ticketed to reach out to her, saying she would work with them to help pay the fine.
Parker said getting ticketed during a protest was following in Congressman John Lewis’ lineage of being arrested for civil disobedience while in office. Parker said it’s not the first time she’s been targeted at protests, and it won’t be the last time.
“So literally [the police are] out here looking for blood, trying to make their quotas, trying to feed their egos,” Parker said.
The next step in demanding racial justice, Parker said, is to take actions that put pressure on specific stakeholders within the university to meet the students’ demands.
“[The next steps include] figuring out more creative and hard-to-miss ways to continue pressure on the commission to defund the police,” Parker said. “Taking a step back, maybe, from direct action for a week or two to think about how we can be very pointed and powerful and meaningful, messageful, and what next steps we have to take.”