As District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker guided the crowd of over 50 protesters around Athens, she led them in rallying chants, using a metal kitchen pan and a large metal spoon to create a rhythm.
“Say his name!” Parker shouted at the crowd.
“Which one!” The protesters shouted in return.
Partnering with local activist groups such as the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement, The Davenport-Benham Black Law Student Association of the University of Georgia organized a march on Friday evening, calling for racial and economic justice in Athens and UGA.
The group presented a list of demands to the audience, including ending qualified immunity for the Athens police force, renaming UGA buildings with racist history, creating scholarships for Black descendants of slaves and for the university to better manage the COVID-19 pandemic among its population.
UGA recently reported 821 new COVID-19 cases from Aug. 24-30, up 189 new cases from the week prior. BLSA Vice President Ashleigh Rasheed-Britt called for the university to better report the number of coronavirus cases in its population.
“We are living in a climate now where we’re dealing with a pandemic and social injustices nationwide,” Rasheed-Britt said to The Red & Black. “Now is the time, more than ever, to get involved and localize some of the issues affecting Black and brown students here at UGA and also black people in the Athens community at large.”
The march started at the UGA Arch and proceeded around the west side of downtown Athens before stopping at Athens City Hall, where the BLSA organized several speakers to address the audience.
One of the speakers, AADM co-founder and President Mokah Jasmine Johnson, called on the audience to organize, mobilize and commit to keeping the fight for racial and economic justice going.
“Change is not gonna come today, baby,” Johnson said to the crowd. “Change is gonna come if you only continue to fight. Change is only gonna come if you start voting out corrupted politicians and stop being scared to start believing that your vote does matter.”
Athens for Everyone President Erin Stacer called on the UGA students in the audience to pressure the university to create reparations scholarship programs designed specifically for the Black descendants of slaves.
BLSA also demanded the university make such scholarships for the descendants of Linnentown residents. Linnentown was a Black residential community in the 1960s which was forcibly taken away by the university to make room for the construction of its three high-rise student dorms.
Stacer also called on the UGA students to pressure the university to rename its buildings with racist histories.
“You’re UGA students. Your money is how they function. You get to demand from them what you want to seem,” Stacer said. “You get to say to them that ‘I don’t want to go to school in a building after some dude who owned slaves. That’s not who I want to honor.’”
Parker called to defund and abolish the police, saying its need will disappear when society eliminates the root of crime by better caring of its residents’ needs, such as ending hunger.
Parker and District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson introduced the 50/10 plan earlier this year, which would reduce the size of the ACCPD by 50% over the next 10 years and divert the funds to social workers and other social programs. The plan was later voted down by the ACC Mayor and Commission, but Parker said she will continue to fight to defund the police.
Parker also called for the audience to study abolitionist thinking and to fight to change policing.
“The idea of abolition might sound scary and radical to some. But it is not an absence of public safety. It is the founding and fostering of a life-affirming system,” she said. “It is cutting out, at the roots, the need to send police."
Rasheed-Britt echoed Parker’s sentiment to defund the police.
“Right now, we are in a pandemic. Black and brown people are more likely statistically disproportionality affected by this pandemic. Instead of spending millions of dollars on new toys for the police, it’s better to spend that money on people who need it."
Mercer University’s BLSA chapter also attended the rally in support and solidarity of their sister chapter’s efforts. Member Chad Capers said Rasheed-Britt invited the chapter to come.
“This is a cause that it's important to Black people nationwide. And this is the least that we can do is to drive up an hour and 45 minutes to come to UGA and show allyship,” Capers said. “We’re changing this gosh darn country one brick at a time, and this is the brick we did today.”