By: Roger Hoke – Staff Writer
Following an incident in which a local man was shot and killed by police in a Beavercreek, Ohio, Wal-Mart, Wright State University students gathered for a protest march initiated by a “Theatre of Justice” and in solidarity with the nation-wide “It’s Bigger Than You” movement that arose in the wake of the controversy surrounding the events in Ferguson, Missouri.
Hundreds of students gathered at an outside venue known as “the Quad” on WSU’s campus Sept. 4 to watch a dramatic performance put on by the rally’s organizing group, the Ethnic Theatre Alliance, according to local news outlets.
ETA members at the protest said the group was formed in response to the events in Ferguson and Beavercreek and the demonstration, titled “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” called for the release of in-store videotape footage showing the Wal-Mart shooting.
On the night of Aug. 5, “[John Crawford III], 22, of Fairfield, died of a gunshot wound to the torso after Beavercreek police said he didn’t respond to commands to drop a weapon,” Dayton Daily News reporter Kelli Wynn wrote of the incident.
Police arrived at the store several minutes after a Riverside man called 911 to report a black man waving a rifle-type gun at customers, according to recordings of the caller’s conversation with the dispatcher.
The office of the attorney general later determined the reported weapon to be an empty BB gun Crawford had picked up from a store shelf.
Attorney General Mike DeWine has declined to make the video public, citing the potential of the video to taint the jury pool of an upcoming Greene County grand jury decision regarding whether any crimes were committed during the Aug. 5 events, according to DDN coverage of the story.
The ETA travelled to Ball State University to participate in a student demonstration led by the original chapter of ETA and focused on the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, according to the group’s Facebook page, which says its purpose is to use “theatre to explore cultures, diversity, and racial-discrimination to develop worldviews” in students “and create well-rounded artists.”
Protest participant and WSU graduate Amaha Selassie said his involvement was motivated by the thought that Crawford’s death could have happened to anyone.
“I began to take such an interest in this case because I was in so much shock that this happened and I realized it could have happened to anybody,” Selassie said.
ETA members said the group’s theatrical pieces help raise awareness of their cause.
“Through performance, I feel that we can have a real conversation about what’s going on,” said ETA spokesman Tommy DiMassimo to Dayton Daily News.
“The artistry in theatre is not separated from activism,” DiMassimo continued, “they are one and the same.”
Students on campuses across the nation have gathered to voice their opinion on issues relating to cases like that of Crawford and Brown.
“I think it is so important for students to be involved because historically the pulse and drive of the civil rights movement and social movements is students,” Selassie said.
He said it is students’ responsibility to “keep the movement moving forward with a high level of authenticity.”
“We need to emerge with leadership and develop strong connections amongst each other because we will be the future leaders within our communities and across the nation,” Selassie said.
At the University of Dayton, the student group Black Action Through Unity has taken on the role of fostering conversation and action concerning the issues and questions highlighted by Brown and Crawford’s shootings.
Through UD’s Center for Social Concern, BATU organized a town hall meeting and panel discussion Thursday, Sept. 11 to address the issues raised by the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” movement, according to an email from the CSC.
The meeting provided students an opportunity to voice their opinions and ask questions.
Some UD students aren’t confident a successful social justice group like ETA could take root on Dayton’s campus.
Emily Levison, a junior education major, said she thinks ETA would be a positive addition to the UD community.
“We should have something like it,” Levison said. “But you have to be willing to keep it up, and I’m not sure if enough people on campus would be willing to stay involved with it for that long.”
“If you have enough of a backing and you want to further it, it is worthwhile,” Levison said.
Selassie said he thinks the student protests “are very relevant because they speak to an underlying pulse in society.”
Protesting, he said, “creates constructive ways to alleviate systematic pressures and transform these pressures into new ways to see and relate to one another in order to create a greater sense of belonging for all human beings.”