While scrolling through social media last week, Ashlei Gentry found herself needing to call her mom.
“Mommy, there’s another one,” she said.
Gentry, the president of the Black Student Union and a senior political science major, told her mom about another police-involved killing of an unarmed black man named Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There would be two more in this same week: Tawon Boyd in Baltimore and Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte.
Students from BSU stood for the alma mater song at the Homecoming football game against University of North Carolina at Charlotte at Lincoln Financial Field.
As “The Star-Spangled Banner” began, all BSU members in attendance sat in protest. They plan to sit during the anthem at every game for the rest of the football season.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was thrown into the spotlight last month when he did not stand for the national anthem the team’s preseason games.
CNN reported that Kaepernick will continue to kneel to give a voice to people of color who experience oppression in the United States.
But Gentry said BSU isn’t just copying Kaepernick.
“People are going to assume we’re not standing because Colin Kaepernick isn’t standing,” she said. “We’re not standing because the system is inherently racist.”
Recent killings of black men by police and more insight on specific verses of the national anthem led BSU to consider sitting during the national anthem at Temple football games. They first considered it for the season-opening game against Army, but did not want to disrespect the West Point team.
“[Recent police shootings] make me aware of my blackness, I guess you could say,” Gentry added. “You empathize and you’re like ‘That could be me. That could be someone in my family.’ That’s how I look at it. That could be them. This is really close to them — that’s my brother.”
“As a nation, we’ve definitely reached a tipping point,” Gentry added.
BSU has nearly 200 members. Many of these members attended Saturday’s Homecoming game and sat during the anthem, along with non-members and non-black allies that chose to protest the anthem along with them.
Sophomore film and media arts major Jazz Milligan is not a part of BSU, but said she planned to sit no matter who else around her was.
“It’s just like the national anthem is like equality and freedom for the fallen,” Milligan said. “Unarmed men get shot every day, so it’s not really free and I can’t stand for an anthem that promotes a false idea.”
Jalen Johns, a freshman media studies and production major, is also not a member of BSU and did not stand for the anthem.
“I’m just not proud of where our country is right now,” Johns said. “And I’m not willing to support that.”
Kourtney Thompson, a sophomore advertising major and BSU’s marketing and promotions chair, said she was surprised to see so many people take the protest seriously.
“Being on social media all of the time because that’s a part of my job to just monitor, you see that there’s a lot of negativity toward the movement,” Thompson said. “A lot of people feel as though it’s disrespectful. So I was proud of the fact people actually took us seriously and are doing something to make a change.”
Tom Leonard, a sophomore human development and community engagement major, stood during the national anthem but said he respects students’ protest of the anthem, though he doesn’t agree with it.
“[Police brutality] is an issue that we need to talk about,” Leonard said. “I might not necessarily agree with it because it is the national anthem and people have fought and died for it and everything, but I respect where they’re coming from.”
Pete O’Neill, a 1975 alumnus and former Temple football player, said it was students’ “prerogative” to sit during the national anthem.
“I stood for the national anthem, that’s my prerogative,” O’Neill said.“If they feel they have a right to petition it that way, then go right ahead. That’s their right.”
Protests have been underway in Charlotte since the death of Keith Lamont Scott by police. Gentry said the protest at the Charlotte game was an accident, but is a great coincidence.
Students at Charlotte, which is three miles from where Scott was killed, have been protesting through “die-ins” in the school’s student union building and have engaged in other forms of protest against police brutality.
Charlotte redshirt-senior offensive lineman Jamal Covington was a part of the protests at his school and said he was unaware of BSU protesting the anthem during the Saturday game but supported their right to protest.
“Everyone has their right to express their voice and what they feel and I feel as an American citizen,” Covington told The Temple News. “You have that right to express how you feel non-violent as long as it’s not causing any harm to anybody.”
Gillian McGoldrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Evan Easterling contributed reporting.
Editor’s Note: The Diamond Band was originally reported as Sam performing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Temple versus University of North Carolina at Charlotte game at Lincoln Financial Field. This story has been corrected and removed mention of the Diamond Band. The Temple News regrets the error.