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Stanford students stage angry, but peaceful, march to Palo Alto
STANFORD -- More than 500 Stanford University students marched from campus to Palo Alto and back in a passionate, but peaceful, protest sparked by the verdict that Los Angeles police were not guilty of exceeding their authority in beating Rodney King.
The marchers began with a campus rally at noon, and ended with a return to the Oval on campus at 4:30 p.m. In between, they marched to Palo Alto. At City Hall, they blocked the intersection of Bryant Street and Hamilton Avenue for 90 minutes while hearing speakers, then moved to University Avenue, the main commercial street of Palo Alto. There, they rallied again in front of Copeland's, a sporting goods store that was the only downtown store with boarded windows.
"If you wonder why we stopped here, look at it," said Tracy Clay, a senior in public policy, turning toward the store. "Look at the respect the other store owners showed us. It's about respect."
Most stores remained open, though several locked their doors or removed jewelry window displays, and shoppers continued shopping. Police blocked streets a block away from the protesters, with the rerouting of traffic the only visible disruption of normal downtown activity.
Protest speakers concentrated on discussion of whether any change will take place once current events leave the headlines.
The march to Palo Alto followed an angry but peaceful noontime rally in front of the Stanford Law School, which was attended by 1,500 to 2,000 students, faculty and staff members. Many were dressed in black, as requested by rally organizers, and sweltering in the hot sun.
Students, wearing yellow sashes made of police barricade tape, acted as marshals.
"I believe it was Malcolm X that said, 'Any black man that is not paranoid in America is crazy,'" said the Rev. Floyd Thompkins of Stanford Memorial Church, to loud applause. "For a long time, we began to believe that it was only crazy folk who were paranoid. But a few days ago, I will tell you, that prescription was refilled."
Thompkins added that he was "tired, tired, tired" of reporters and others asking his opinion of the King verdict.
"What they really mean is, 'Can you say something to calm folks down?'" he said. "Now let me tell you something. Our opinion did not matter a few days ago. It did not matter when Colin Powell said don't go to the Middle East, or when the mayor of Los Angeles said (Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl) Gates should go. And let me make it clear, our opinion will not matter the day after these fires are put out.
"I am a non-violent advocate, and it's hard for me to realize that the only reason folks are coming to talk to me now is that we got angry. . . . We got got angry because we were black in America and we were tired of it," he said, to loud applause.
"I'm tired of everybody looking to the folks who are people of color to make a difference. We have been saying the same thing for 20 years. You (the majority) are the ones who have not stood up for justice, you are the ones who have been silent!"
Bacardi Jackson, president of Stanford's Black Student Union, called the day's activities "just the beginning," of her group's efforts to protest the King verdict.
"We want some concrete things to come out of this, and we don't have time for anything else to happen that's gonna split up this effort," she said, to applause.
Among their goals, she said, was to localize the issue, raise awareness, write letters to public officials, promote unity and register voters.
"This isn't just about Rodney King, and this isn't just about police brutality," she said. "This is a system thing going on, and we're going to deal with this.
"Everybody's focusing in on what's happening in Central LA, talking about us like we're a bunch of caged animals. We've got to talk about the violence behind the violence . . . what's happening with the training of police officers. This is not just one incident. It's not just a surface thing, but something very deeply rooted in the American system.
"Finally, loudly," she said, "we cannot destroy ourselves. We cannot have that violence going on in South Central LA. We can't have black people killing black people, or black people killing Chicano people, because we're doing their job for them, and were not about that."
Lucius Barker, Stanford professor of political science, told the crowd that he was "deeply disturbed" by the King verdict and what it suggests about the state of the country.
One concern, he said, is whether the verdict will give license to law enforcement officers to be even less restrained in their actions. The trial's change of venue was another concern. And, he said, "immediate actions must be taken to quell the mass violence and bloodshed which few would condone, but which history suggests might well occur when openly blatant racism and actions threaten to deny to African Americans and similar groups the very dignity, self worth and respect that is due to any individual."
The King trial, he said, recalls an opinion written in the infamous 1857 Dred Scott case, which said that "blacks have no rights which the white man is bound to respect."
"Unfortunately," he said, "we have not learned much or profited much from the lessons of history."
Dean of Students Michael Jackson said he came before the rally "as a child of South Central Los Angeles and as a child of a family brutalized and in some cases put in prison because of the hopelessness of this country."
"I also come before you as a person who is Rodney King. One of the reasons why why we're all here and why we're all upset is that every blow that was crashed down on his head and on his body was a blow against justice, freedom, humanity, and on each of us, because we were hit."
Jackson said he was glad to see "so many faculty, staff and students of all races and religions and all cultures," at the rally.
"Let's stay involved, let's stay focused, and understand what we can do as individuals, particularly the students," he said. "I want to challenge you to go out there and become the police commissioners, the judges, the legislators, the governors, the presidents, the folks who will change this society so this does not happen again."
He added that Stanford faculty, staff and administrators were ready to work with students "to make sure that this institution responds in a very clear way to organized teach-ins, to organized ads in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. We understand you. Rodney King is us and we are him, and let's not forget it."
Other speakers at the rally included Vice President for Student Resources Mary Edmonds, who spoke about her own experiences with racial injustice; representatives from schools and churches in East Palo Alto; and representatives from Stanford's Asian, Chicano, Native American, Jewish and women's communities.
The rally ended at about 1:45 p.m., when organizers announced that the group would march to Palo Alto.
Future related activities at Stanford will include a discussion between Janet Wells of the Palo Alto NAACP and Stanford Police Chief Marv Herrington at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 3, in the Elliot Program Center; an East Palo Alto/Stanford Community meeting on May 5 at a time and place to be announced, and a teach-in focusing on specific solutions to institutionalized racism on May 6, at a time and place to be announced.
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