On a hot, sunny day in June, the words “I can’t breathe” stretched boldly across the face of Auburn University at Montgomery senior Dameyune Smith as he stood on the steps of the state capitol to protest the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd while in police custody.
AUM senior Dameyune Smith attends a Black Lives Matter rally held June 14 at the state capitol in downtown Montgomery.
With his stand on that day, Smith joined the growing number of young people across the nation participating in Black Lives Matter protests to raise awareness about the disproportionate number of African Americans being killed by police. Protesters marching in face masks during the coronavirus pandemic and chanting Floyd’s last words — “I can’t breathe” — have become symbols of the movement.
“A lot people say that young people don’t care about the Black Lives Matter movement but look at how many young people are marching and protesting in the wake of the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many other African Americans,” Smith said. “We do care, but our generation has been painted in a negative light.”
Smith said he set out to serve as an example that young people can make a difference when he joined black community leaders and men — most wearing face masks with Floyd’s last words — at the capitol on June 14 to march for equality and send a poignant message against police brutality. In a dark gray suit, Smith was front and center as prominent black leaders gave inspirational speeches before the march.
“I felt this was my way to be a part of something bigger and a way to use my platform as a young African-American man to do something good in our community,” he said. “We’re seeing so many of our young black men and women getting killed by police that it’s been a constant cycle of violence with law enforcement.”
Dameyune Smith in downtown
Montgomery for rally.
A young man holds a BLM
poster during the rally.
The lives of Mike Brown, Laquan McDonald, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor mattered, Smith said, recounting the names of African Americans who have died from police-related or what some view as racially motivated incidents.
“My hope is that someday we can end police brutality and get it under control so that maybe our communities can begin to have a better relationship with police,” he said. “If police can stop seeing us as a threat for little things like reaching for your license and walking to the store for candy, I believe they can find better ways to deescalate situations.”
The group ended the rally by peacefully marching to Montgomery’s historic Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Smith said.
“It was a great experience and one of the best I’ve had,” said Smith, who also participated in a 2013 rally for Trayvon Martin, an African-American teen killed by a neighborhood watch member in Florida. “It’s so important for us as black men and women to come together for a greater good. It’s how we will get our stories told as blacks, and all people of color.”
Smith, an English major, said he plans to pursue a career in linguistics after he graduates in May 2021 and credits his faculty mentor, College of Education Dean Sheila Austin, for pushing him to be the best version of himself.
Photos of the Black Lives Matter rally were contribtued by Montgomery photograher Emmanuel Elkins.