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Protester from Dallas shooting, Black Student Union highlight UNT remembrance

Protester from Dallas shooting, Black Student Union highlight UNT remembrance

President Smatresk listens to speakers at a vigil for the five officers who were killed Thursday evening in Dallas at the student library mall. More than 100 people attended the vigil on Friday. Kristina Uresti | Staff Photographer

Protester from Dallas shooting, Black Student Union highlight UNT remembrance
July 09
10:00 2016

Matt Payne | Features Editor

@MattePaper

The night of July 7, bullets were fired upon the Dallas Police Department at a #BlackLivesMatter protest inspired by the death of 37-year-old Alton Sterling by the Baton Rouge Police Department.

Less than 24 hours after the targeted attack in Downtown Dallas, UNT faculty and its student body gathered at the Library Mall to pay respects to both parties.

The Black Student Union, with representatives affiliated with the Multicultural Center and the UNT Police Department, hosted a vigil that opened dialogue about social injustices and inequity focused on by the global humanitarian effort, #BlackLivesMatter. Denton County Friends of the Family was also present with crisis counselors to console those who approached the mic through tears to offer prayer, spoken verse and encouragement through a collective distress.

UNT president Neal Smatresk was among those who took to the mic and lamented the deaths of both Sterling and the five Dallas PD officers.

“Like everyone, I was shocked at what happened. Incredible violence in any form will force a community to evaluate what’s going on,” Smatresk said. “I think the events in the past few days force us to evaluate the issues of race in prejudice.”

President Smatresk speaks at a vigil for the five officers who were killed Thursday evening in Dallas at the student library mall. More than 100 people attended the vigil on Friday. Kristina Uresti | Staff Photographer

President Smatresk speaks at a vigil for the five officers who were killed Thursday evening in Dallas at the student library mall. More than 100 people attended the vigil on Friday. Kristina Uresti | Staff Photographer

Smatresk reflected the call to open dialogue with one another to address brooding racial tension that can lead to spontaneous violence. When he considered the growing air of uneasiness after a series of tragedies since last month’s Orlando massacre, he emphasized the availability of counseling for those distraught and education on what is and isn’t permissible regarding gun laws.

Like students, many faculty members are continually growing anxious for the possibility of an unforeseen attack happening at UNT, especially with the new campus carry policy launching on August 1. Smatresk expressed hesitation, but compliance with the state mandate.

“We’re faced with a law that was passed by our legislatures. We must comply with it,” Smatresk said. “We’re trying to do it in a way that is most respectful.”

As far as speculation about hypothetical attack at UNT, he said he believes the campus is a controlled, more easily managed space to ensure welfare than a broad city like Dallas.

“I don’t believe we should confuse what happened in Dallas – which appears to be a very planned attack – with the campus carry issue,” Smatresk said. “I, like every university president in this state, don’t understand why we are doing it. I don’t see how it improves the security of our students. But we’re going to do our best as a faculty and staff to ensure safety.”

Integrative studies senior and president of UNT’s NAACP chapter Tarryn Oliver echoed what Smatresk envisions is UNT’s appropriate response to the Dallas shooting: open dialogue and acceptance, regardless of race.

“As a college campus, I feel that we first need to first educate and protect ourselves to stand up for others,” Oliver said. “I think what happened in Dallas is sad and wasn’t just, but I believe that the man may have acted from emotions. It doesn’t justify what he’s doing, but it proves we need to take care of our mental health.”

The NAACP  was eager to encourage people other than their own members to discuss issues they’ve seen on campus, whether the organization agrees or not.

“A lot of times we as college students feel that we can’t make a difference when we actually can, “Oliver said. “We allow people to speak and use their voice, and then we tell them how to be effective in their community. And if we don’t have a solution, we talk about it so that we can come up with a solution together. NAACP is a peaceful organization that holds peaceful protests.”

Public relations junior Justin Fiallos did just that Thursday night in Downtown Dallas, with fellow proponents of #BlackLivesMatter. Originally a resident of Louisiana, he carried a heavy heart mourning the death of Alton Sterling from Baton Rouge.

Justin Fealos(not sure on spelling), PR major Junior year, was at the rally in Dallas when the police were fatally shot, gave a speech and read a poem

Justin Fiallos, public relations junior, who was at a rally in Dallas Thursday evening when the police were fatally shot, speaks about his experience and reads a poem. Kristina Uresti | Staff Photographer

According to him, the evening began sober and controlled.

“Everything was going fine and peaceful,” Fiallos said, remembering heading the march near the front of the crowd. “Police escorted us the whole time, but we stopped at the courthouse, got back to marching, and all I heard was a gunshot and everybody just started going off.”

Fiallos was with several in the targeted area of Dallas when the snipers blasted more than 30 shots into crowds below their perch. He remembers panic and chaos – fear that extended even to the officers caught in a frenzy, not immediately knowing exactly how to respond.

He ran away, and police officers followed. Not familiar with the Dallas locale, Fiallos kept running from where the original gunshot resounded, only to be pushed further and further by authorities who still didn’t know the location of the snipers.

Fiallos ended up holed in the basement of the Omni Hotel when the suspects were expected to be inside as well. He described it as “one of the craziest times of his life.”

“We didn’t know what to do at the time,” Fiallos said, recalling being separated from his friend who was protesting with him. “Nobody would update us for over an hour.”

When Fiallos and his friend were able to leave the Omni Hotel, he said they faced a fallen officer across the parallel sidewalk being strapped onto a stretcher. His bleeding thigh put the wee hours of the night into solemn perspective.

And he shared this perspective with his fellows who gathered at tonight’s vigil to remember those who’ve died by the guns of prejudiced individuals.

His message boiled down to something simple: if you love anybody, don’t hesitate to tell them so. Poetry and prayer illustrated his earnestness.

“I’m out here because I’m tired,” Fiallos said. “It’s honestly time for a change. We talk about change consistently every day, and tragedies happen like this that bring us together. But they also divide us apart.

This video was taken by Justin Fiallos. It shows a police officer being taken away from the scene on a stretcher.

Featured Image: President Smatresk listens to speakers at a vigil for the five officers who were killed Thursday evening in Dallas at the student library mall. More than 100 people attended the vigil on Friday. Kristina Uresti | Staff Photographer

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