Hundreds of AU students gathered on the quad on September 15 to honor and commemorate the life of An’Twan Gilmore. The vigil was organized by Chyna Brodie, president of the AU Student Government.
Gilmore, 27, was sleeping in his car around 2 a.m. on August 25, 2021, but suddenly awoke to the sight of officers surrounding his vehicle. Startled and afraid, Gilmore’s car lurched forward. Violating DC Metropolitan Police’s (MPD) policies which prohibit firing at vehicles in motion, Sgt. Enis Jevric fatally shot Gilmore 10 times. “Even within our slumber, Black people do not receive human decency,” said President Brodie. While sleeping in one’s car is not a crime, Brodie articulated the experience felt by many Black Americans: “ultimately, we are guilty until proven innocent and that is why we’re here today.”
The vigil continued with a prayer led by Interim Chaplain Rev. Bryant Oskvig, who reminded students that this was a moment of mourning the loss of a valued friend, family member, and human being. Following the prayer, Jadyn Newman, a junior at AU and AU Student Government Chief of Staff, shared the sobering experience of taking a photo of her younger brother. In a moment that should have been tender and sweet, Newman revealed that what she actually felt was guilt. “I was guilty because my first thought about a very nice picture of my very nice brother was about what I would do if his body fell victim to the centuries-long epidemic plaguing him and my cousins and my father and An’Twan Gilmore and my best friends and all the names coming into your head right now.”
Amaris Levitt, a junior at AU who serves as the Copy Editor for the BlackPrint and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for AUSG shared her piece on the dehumanization of Black people in the U.S. “10-71 is police code for shooting, 187 is police code for homicide. These codes are the representation of how police identify their victims. An’Twan Gilmore wasn’t a shooting, he was a 10-71. An’Twan Gilmore didn’t die by homicide, he was simply just another 187.” Levitt's words challenged AU students to examine whether they have become desensitized, or numb, to the continuous murders of Black Americans at the hands of police. “When video evidence displays the vicious, heinous killings, treatments, and harassments by police officers towards Black Americans, the question still remains: When is enough, enough? When will Black lives truly matter? When will the killings stop?”
Keana Brooks, a senior and director of American University’s Student Union Board, expressed a similar frustration as she recited her poem TBIB, “You step on my brothers’ necks while gunning down my sisters.”
Lastly, sophomore Kayla Kelly, founder of the DC-based mutual aid coalition Heal Da Homies, galvanized the crowd with their speech Gang Members Who Wear Badges and White Masks. “We can no longer rely on our own oppressors to save us from oppression! … We have sharpened the master’s tools, threatened his power, and expect him not to harm us in return,” Kelly exclaimed. “To my fellow Black people and victims of white supremacy, we must arm ourselves with self-defence items, knowledge of politics, and community solidarity!”
President Brodie concluded the vigil by addressing a common sentiment felt by Black AU students when it comes to showing up for Black lives. “This cannot be the end… I have seen a lot of performative action by a lot of students.” This did not dissuade Brodie from encouraging students to move beyond simply performing activism to consistently show up for their Black friends and friends of color, not just in moments of extreme racial tension.
Moving forward, AU will be providing more workshops on how to be an active ally to BIPOC students and AUSG has asked all AU students to call the office of Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh who is overseeing Gilmore’s case and demand justice for Gilmore. Additionally, a template script has been provided for students to use when calling Cheh’s office. Lastly, Brodie invited students to come to her with questions and a genuine desire to be a better ally.
The mourning of Gilmore’s life and death extends beyond AU’s campus, giving students an opportunity to get connected with the greater Washington community. Black Lives Matter DC launched a petition to DC public officials demanding justice for Gilmore’s murder and Gilmore’s family also released a list of demands including a conviction of the officers responsible for his death.