Protest at Missouri State homecoming elicits slurs
By Daniel Fredman
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) -- Demonstrators at Missouri State University who were met with racial slurs and gun gestures during a silent march protesting fatal police shootings are receiving apologies and support from the school.
University officials said in a statement Tuesday that the school does not condone or tolerate the harassment of people who were exercising their free speech rights during the protest through Saturday's homecoming festivities, The Springfield News-Leader reported (http://sgfnow.co/1pDMH2K ).
About three dozen students marched silently on the campus for about 1 1/2 hours. Besides the slurs and gun gestures, others told them to "Go back to St. Louis" and "You don't belong here," said Jakal Burrell-El, a Missouri State senior and protest organizer.
"Some of the comments that we got reiterated the whole need for this protest in the first place," Burrell-El said.
Protests have been common since 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, was killed by white police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. Tensions escalated earlier this month when a white police officer in St. Louis fatally shot another black 18-year-old, Vonderrit Myers Jr., who police say fired the first shots.
Missouri State also apologized after Athletic Director Kyle Moats ordered that the group's chalked protest messages near the football stadium be removed. The displays included body outlines and signs that read "Black Lives Matter," and "Stop Killing Us." Moats said he thought the display was incendiary and inappropriate.
"That was my fault ... we were wrong in what we did," said Moats, who plans to apologize in person to the protest organizers.
Burrell-El said despite the negative reaction, he believes the demonstration was successful.
"I think everything that transpired led to more dialogue for what we have to do at the university level and what student leaders have to do," he said. "Some people questioned having the event at homecoming. If we had this at a normal event, none of this would have happened. ... We're starting to get some ground in moving in the right direction."
Mike Jungers, dean of students, said the protest was peaceful and well-organized, and the students did not violate any university policies. He said he advised the students beforehand that they might get some negative reactions.
"I was worried that that might happen and it did happen, and I understand that's very painful for the students, and it tells me we still have a lot of work to do as a university," Jungers said.