Security at Boise State University is investigating vandalism of a Black Lives Matter float created by the university’s Afro-Black Student Alliance for Saturday’s homecoming parade, according to a statement emailed to media and posted on Facebook by President Bob Kustra.
Senior Nnandii Alexander, a health science major from Los Angeles and president of the Afro-Black Student Alliance, said the float was parked with other homecoming floats in the Brady Street Garage on campus overnight on Friday. When Alexander and other alliance members returned to the garage on Saturday afternoon for the “best float” vote, they found the decorations on their small float destroyed.
“We had the names of a few who had been killed such as Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, etc. Those balloons were popped and taken down,” Alexander said in a Twitter message. “We had balloons with words such as justice, unity, etc. on them and it looked as if someone tried to wipe the paint off. We had a beautiful sign that said ‘Black Lives Matter’ and it was nowhere to be found.”
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The students put the float’s decorations back together and took part in the parade.
The 20-member alliance has been active on campus for a few years, Alexander said. Blacks make up around 1.5 percent of Boise State’s 22,000 enrolled students. This was the first float that the club had ever made for homecoming.
“The club rarely openly participates in huge functions such as homecoming, so we figured we would finally give it a try,” Alexander said Sunday. “We expected the disrespect, but we never expected to be hurt like this.”
The alliance has organized a few events in the past, Alexander said. Members held “Black Lives Matter” and “Don’t Shoot” signs at the 2015 Mountain West Championship game at Albertsons Stadium.
“That was eventful in itself,” Alexander said. “Many people had negative things to say. It was awkward standing there silent as people watched the game and we held up our signs. But that helped to make us stronger for what came this past weekend.”
The vandalism first came to light on Twitter, with several users, including Alexander, calling on the university to rectify the situation.
The float was created using a golf cart. Alexander said homecoming officials initially told her the damage was caused by wind, though she said she didn’t notice any other floats that appeared to be damaged.
“We were told if we no longer wanted to be in the parade, to take the decorations down and park the golf cart, (and) if we wanted to remain in the parade to continue with our cart looking the way it was,” she said.
The event caused Boise State President Bob Kustra to issue a statement around 1 a.m. Sunday.
“I learned this evening that a homecoming float built by the Afro-Black Student Alliance to raise awareness about the Black Lives Matter movement was damaged by vandals,” Kustra said. “Let me say unequivocally that I and all Boise State leaders condemn this act and any attempt to quiet the constitutionally protected free speech of students and others on our campus.”
Kustra said university security was looking into the reports. He said school officials “have reached out to the alliance’s student leaders to express our support directly.”
Alexander said the group is distraught and “taking some time to try and gather our emotions.”
“My members remained strong and wanted to show the world that despite the trials and tribulations we faced, we are proud to be members of Afro-Black Student Alliance,” she said. “And we will not shut up.”
Alexander said she’s received “unbelievable” backlash since posting her “Black Lives Matter” tweet early on Sunday.
Reader comments on the Statesman’s story run the gamut from those accusing the student group of domestic terrorism, to those in ardent support of Black Lives Matter.
She said the club will meet to talk about what happened and what to do next. She anticipates the club will file a police report.
There are no security cameras in the Brady Garage that might have captured footage of the vandalism taking place, university officials said.
Black Lives Matter Boise posted a note in support of the university on its Facebook page on Sunday.
“In our beautiful city of Boise, we are beginning to see some of the effects of people who are made uncomfortable by the fight to end systemic racism and inequality across the nation,” the group said. Boise State University we stand with you in solidarity and are at your service in helping you in any way we can.”
Black Lives Matter rallies took place in Boise over the summer. Organizers said the rallies were meant to show support for communities dealing with incidents of police violence against black people. Those rallies also attracted protesters.
The incident at Boise State follows an incident in September when students at Mountain Home High School painted a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement in the school parking lot. Counterprotesters reacted by displaying Confederate flags and bringing fried chicken and watermelon to the black students.