KHS students organize “March against injustice”

Organizers+Peyton+Nico+and+Wyatt+Byers+lead+the+front+of+the+march+as+the+group+passes+Kirkwood+city+hall.

Sophia Beckmann

Organizers Peyton Nico and Wyatt Byers lead the front of the march as the group passes Kirkwood city hall.

By Kate Schreiber, Kirkwood High School

It started with a single text message. The same day, KHS sophomores Wyatt Byers, Áine Bradley, Peyton Nico, Liv Timp, Blake Sutter, Bella Ruzicka and Madeline Rapp were organizing a “march against injustice.”

The idea came after the KHS, NKMS and Nipher school buildings were vandalized with graffiti including racial slurs. According to Byers – who sent the first message – he wanted to do something that wasn’t the performative activism he was seeing in the community. The group made flyers and posted on social media to popularize the event. 

“I hope to see examples of systemic racism, both big [things] such as the vandalism itself and what was written, go away,” Byers said. “And [I hope] the subtle things [go away], like people that make jokes about the events that are happening — there’s those sort of microaggressions that people of color will face.”

One goal of the group’s written mission statements was to request that the prosecutors label the vandalism a hate crime, though they noted that this could not be done until the perpetrators’ backgrounds have been investigated. Some student attendees like Tonyae Fuller, junior, also believe that the vandalism should be seen as a hate crime.

This march is not just about the vandalism”

— Liv Timp

“When I heard that they [weren’t] going to classify it as a hate crime, I was confused,” Fuller said. “I was upset because it’s plain in your face and I think you can see that it is. I’m just here today to solidify that yes, it is [a hate crime] and even if they [caught the perpetrators] they need to have justice for what they did and it doesn’t matter who did it. It really doesn’t.”

Students and Kirkwood community members gathered at the Essex parking lot Wednesday Jan. 13 at 4 p.m. Byers and Timp spoke briefly about the march and their mission statement, while also thanking police for their work in the investigation. They said their most important goal was to encourage Kirkwood to support their residents of color and KSD staff and  students of color. 

“We want to ensure that Kirkwood is a safe place for all, in both the community and the schools,” Timp said. “This march is not just about the vandalism.”

Like Timp, Nico also wants to see change. Nico said the biggest thing they want to see changed is the attitude and how racism is addressed in Kirkwood. They said it has been swept under the rug and not treated with depth. 

“I think it’s just important to show the general community how many people are against Kirkwood’s pervasive racism and how many people are aware of how racism impacts our community, and how it’s just not addressed,” Nico said. “I think we need to start addressing it.”

Protesters first walked east on Essex Ave. towards the destination of the Kirkwood Police Station. Many of the protesters were Kirkwood students, including junior Nolan Regalo.

It just scares me that this statement – Black Lives Matter – could elicit that kind of reaction in any human being.”

— Bob Becker

“I think it’s really important to fight for racial equality and justice because right now it’s really not equal between people of color and white people, especially with things like police brutality, and we’ve seen that,” Regalo said. “It’s really important to keep fighting, [because] if you stop showing out and stop showing that you’re supporting then I think [the attention on the problem] kind of falls away.”

As they walked, organizers and protesters yelled chants like “Racism’s not a joke” and “When Black lives are under attack, stand up, fight back” into megaphones. One attendee was former KHS teacher Bob Becker, who keeps a Black Lives Matter sign in the back windshield of his car. He also regularly attends Tuesday night vigils at Elliot Chapel and “WE CAN” vigils put on by the West County Community Action Network on Saturdays which focus on the Black Lives Matter movement.

Don’t keep the silence. Break the silence. Talk about it.”

— Elisia Edwards

“I go to the vigil and there’s all this wonderful love and support, right? I went hiking right afterward, I’m driving down [highway] forty-four and someone flips me off, and that’s not uncommon,” Becker said. “That juxtaposition – that’s St. Louis, and we are so polarized. I don’t have [the sign] in the back of my car window to piss people off. I want to keep the conversation going, and that guy’s entitled to his emotions. It just scares me that this statement – Black Lives Matter – could elicit that kind of reaction in any human being.”

As the march went on, several cars honked in support. When the group reached the police station, protesters gathered in a circle and Nico gave a speech through the megaphone. Elisia Edwards, senior, also spoke.

“Don’t keep the silence,” Edwards said. “Break the silence. Talk about it.”

This story was originally published on The Kirkwood Call on January 21, 2021.