While protesting with the Black Lives Matter movement in Washington, D.C., Ericka Njeumi found herself completely cornered: a group of protesters pitted against police officers, who were armed with gear and saddled on horses.
Next came the tear gas.
“You cannot expect to completely blind people, a crowd full of people, and they won’t face extended danger from that,” said Njeumi, a rising senior film studies and psychology major at the University of Maryland.
Many weren’t wearing eye protection when the gas hit, Njeumi said. But now, she’s working with a group of this university’s students and alumni to provide demonstrators with the supplies they need to protest safely.
Along with four others, Njeumi is helping to coordinate a College Park-based protest pack drive. The organizers are looking to collect — among other items — goggles, hand sanitizer, baking soda, bottled water and small first-aid kits from those willing to donate. The team plans to stockpile the supplies outside Montgomery Hall on Friday from noon to 4 p.m. and then distribute the packs to protesters on the ground in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
“The whole point of doing this supply drive is just to make sure that we can show our community — and black people and D.C. — that we’re here for them,” said Karylena Cruz, who recently graduated from the university with a degree in government and politics. “We’re supporting them.”
Following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes, protesters have taken to the streets, chanting and brandishing signs in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Hosting the drive on the campus was important to Njeumi, she said. She hopes doing so will link the greater community — both College Park and Prince George’s County — together with this university. It also provides a safer way for people to support the demonstrations if they don’t feel comfortable traveling to D.C., Njeumi added.
And holding it at the Montgomery Hall bus stop was intentional, too, she said. It’s the same place where 2nd Lt. Richard Collins, a black Bowie State student, was murdered by a white former student of this university in 2017.
“It’s important that we gave him the respect that he deserves,” Njeumi said.
The drive has received more support than anticipated, said Cruz, who was riding along in a protest caravan when reached by The Diamondback. Its Instagram account has nearly 300 followers, and Cruz’s tweet about the initiative has been shared more than 70 times.
Taara Momeni, who graduated from this university in 2019, found out about the drive on social media and plans to donate Friday afternoon. The Baltimore resident said she plans to take the 40-minute drive to College Park, stopping at Target along the way to buy supplies.
Momeni has been supporting the Black Lives Matter movement for a while now, most recently donating to various fundraisers, such as the George Floyd Memorial Fund — established by Floyd’s brother to assist with funeral and burial expenses, as well as other costs — and the Breonna Taylor fund.
She’s also been out to protest twice, but she said she’s hesitant to go to another gathering due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. That’s why the drive felt like a good option for her.
“This has been the turning point for me,” she said. “Actively getting involved.”