University law students, administrators and Lawrence residents have shown their disapproval over the last few days following the Defend Our Flag counterprotest last Saturday. The Lawrence City Commission held a 40-minute open mic session during their regular commission meeting, and the Black Law Student Association held a #BlackOut on Tuesday, during which all 20 of their members dressed in black to protest the event.
“As law students and informed citizens, we embrace that all peaceable voices have the right to be heard equally without restriction including, this Saturday’s marchers,” their written statement said. “That the marchers purported to act as counter protesters to a ‘drag the flag’ event — which never occurred — does not justify, does not excuse, does not sanctify the marchers’ call to violence and rejection of peaceful dialogue.”
Parents, farmers, neighbors and more told the Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday that the Defend Our Flag counter-protest on Massachusetts Street made them feel unsafe.
BLSA President Waynell Henson said that the group began planning a statement as soon as they heard about the counterprotests.
“I don’t think there was ever a hesitation that we would respond,” Henson said. “Really we just felt like it was more of a responsibility call.”
Henson and the BLSA Vice President Matthew Beal said that they received support expanding past their group, including students at Haskell Indian Nations University, Dean of the Law School Stephen Mazza, and Vice Provost for Diversity and Equity Jennifer Hamer.
“As I shared with others, we encourage and support our students as they engage contemporary issues, practice citizenship that respects the dignity and rights of others, and use their voices as members of the broader community,” Hamer said in an email.
Beal said that the organization inherently wants to support individuals’ First Amendment rights, but wanted to start a conversation that was more constructive.
“I think, you know, even the nationalists and the hard-core haters, they have a right to say what they want to say, and I don’t want to do anything that gets in the way of that, but I do think that the conversation needs to be productive,” Beal said.
The BLSA leaders said that seeing a protest like Saturday’s was something they didn’t think would happen in Lawrence.
“I attended graduate school in the Deep South, so some of those symbols I am very familiar with seeing in other context,” Henson said. “I have to tell you, in 2018 it was very surprising to see something like that in downtown Lawrence.”
The recent display of the confederate flags on Massachusetts St. does not represent the community of inclusion and diversity that we value and will continue to grow at KU. Symbols of hate will not deter our movement forward. pic.twitter.com/JV33XfhRQV— VP Jennifer Hamer (@KU_VPHamer) February 5, 2018
However, Hamer said that while Lawrence is largely liberal, it's not cut off from the rest of the nations’ frustrations.
“No one should be surprised. Lawrence is a place like others, with many people, many voices, and many social differences,” Hamer said. “We are not disconnected from the concerns nor challenges of the nation and the broader world.”
— Edited by Alexandra Martinez