University of Miami Police Department (UMPD) is investigating the theft of a Black Lives Matter banner, allegedly stolen from the University Center (UC) Breezeway around 9:20 p.m. March 2.
Senior Jaime Owens, who started the petition to have the banner hung in the Breezeway, said she noticed the sign was missing when she walked to the Breezeway intending to take a picture of it to send to her mother. She didn’t assume it was stolen right away but was angry that she wasn’t notified of its removal, she said.
When Owens went to the UC to retrieve the banner, she was told no one took it down and it wasn’t in the UC’s possession. According to UM’s Student Center Complex (SCC) policies, the SCC is not responsible for stolen or damaged banners.
UMPD Captain Bill Gerlach said the department is actively investigating the theft. The investigation would also conclude whether the incident meets the criteria to be classified as hate crime.
“I was heartbroken, angry, confused, overwhelmed and disappointed,” Owens said in an email. “The banner being stolen felt like an emotional threat to me as a student of color.”
Jaime said she specifically chose the Breezeway location so the banner would be seen by the hundreds of students who pass through everyday, and where there was ample security to protect the banner — four security cameras, all with different angles of the corner where the banner was placed. There are about 1,400 cameras around campus, Gerlach said.
Before the banner could be put in the Breezeway, Owens said it took six months, five follow-ups with UM President Julio Frenk and 750 signatures from students, faculty and staff.
Owens said part of the challenge of placing the banner was that administrators knew there would be pushback. Junior Antonio Mercurius, who helped Owens with her petition and is a member of the Standing Committee for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (SCDEI), said the meetings about the banner petition were filled with debate and preparation.
“The controversy in the room wasn’t that we don’t want the banner up,” Mercurius said. “It was saying that if we put it up, we need to be able to defend it at all times in an intellectual kind of setting.”
Owens said the banner was important because it would disrupt the atmosphere and challenge the “All Lives Matter” retort many Americans use to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s comforting for a lot of students to see the university say, ‘Your lives matter. We’re against the issues that are pertaining to African Americans and black people in this country,’” Mercurius said.
According to a report by the Washington Post, black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be shot than their white American counterparts. Eighty one percent of black people with at least some college experience said they’ve faced discrimination or have been treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
Knowing the importance of the banner, Mercurius said the university should have been quicker to respond and notify relevant parties, such as the SCDEI.
“Being on a standing committee, I should’ve known and the university should’ve addressed it the day after,” he said. “I get it. They don’t want it to seem like there’s hateful people at the university.”
At this level, the incident would go on file as a theft, said Kelly Denham, Coral Gables Police Department spokesperson.
Owens said she wants to push the university to take further action by charging the thief with a hate crime and any other charges possible. She said she wants the thief to pay for reparations for a new banner if the original has been vandalized.
“I want the school to hang the banner up past Black History Month and open more conversations about race and ethnicity so that ignorance and privileged can be overcome with education and understanding,” Owens said.
Correction, March 24, 2017: This article previously stated Coral Gables Police spokesperson Kelly Denham said the incident would be classified as a petty theft. Denham said the crime would be classified as a theft.