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Local advocacy group, WKU students protest Kyle Rittenhouse speaking on campus

Eli Randolph
Demonstrators with the BG Freedom Walkers gather outside of the Downing Student Union on Wednesday, March 27, 2024 ahead of the Rittenhouse Recap hosted by WKU’s Turning Point USA chapter.

For The People, a student advocacy group, and the Bowling Green Freedom Walkers, a community advocacy group, protested outside Downing Student Union during the WKU Turning Point USA chapter event with Kyle Rittenhouse speaking on Wednesday, March 27.

Throughout the night, groups chanted “Kyle is a killer,” “for the people,” “no justice, no peace” and “whose streets? Our streets.”

Rittenhouse shot three men — two of whom died —  at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, using a semi automatic AR-15 style rifle purchased for him by a friend. He was acquitted in 2021 after he testified that he had acted in self defense. 

For The People, a newly-formed student advocacy group, hosted a sit-in earlier today. Following the sit-in, the group marched through campus and protested outside DSU Nite Class. 

Imanii Giles, a senior political science major, is a member of For the People. They said they found the university and faculty lack of response to the TPUSA event “eye opening.” 

“It has been incredibly eye opening on multiple levels, not just on the student level, but seeing how faculty don’t even watch a fight for us,” Giles said. “It’s very disappointing, but also not surprising, because at the end of the day, this university has never been for us and will never be for us. And it’s painful … This is the life of a black student on WKU campus, and they can’t deny it, because we’re here and we’re talking about [it] and we all have similar lived experiences of racial violence.”

Giles expressed they hope the university understands that FTP wants to make students of colors’ voices heard. 

“We’re not going to take threats to our community softly, we’re going to respond,” Giles said. “We’re going to have collective action and they’re going to hear our voice no matter what. Because we pay 20,000 damn dollars to go to this university. They’re gonna hear what the fuck we got to say.” 

At both the sit-in and the protest, FTP critiqued the Student Government Association for not responding about Rittenhouse speaking on campus. 

Kam Brash (right) chants in protest of Kyle Rittenhouse outside of where he is speaking at the Downing Student Union on March 27, 2024. (Von Smith)

Tani Washington, a senior international affairs major, helped organize the sit-in and protest. 

“They’re [SGA] the only major student body that has enough coordination and power to be able to condemn this on the institutional level,” Washington said. “Obviously, if the administrators are not going to do anything, the next best shot is the student government, but they don’t seem to be doing anything.”

She said she hopes the university is willing to work with students about how to create “concrete change.”

“I’m hoping that the university will see that we’re essentially not playing around, that the demands that we’re asking for are not something that we’re just flippantly wanting, but these are demands that we’d like carefully crafted and policies that we carefully analyze,” Washington said. “We’re hoping that this demonstration will be able to get us a seat inside of the administration’s offices in order to actually talk about and enact some, like, concrete change.”

Dana Beasley-Brown, a Bowling Green city commissioner, spoke at the protest. 

“Use your voices to come together today but not just today,” Brown said. “Use it to continue to form organizations like for the people and to move for positive change here at WKU”

BG Freedom Walkers is a local social advocacy group that formed in 2020. The CEO and founder of the group, Karika Nelson, a 37-year-old Bowling Green resident, organized the protest. 

“We want to let Kyle Rittenhouse know that he’s not welcome inside of our community in Bowling Green, Kentucky,” Nelson said. “And he’s not welcome here at WKU.” 

Students, faculty, staff and other community members who were not involved with either group gathered around the steps of DSU and at Centennial Mall during the protests. Residents of Minton Hall watched the events from outside the building and their dorm windows. 

WKU social work professor Jay Gabbard attended the protests due to his support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and to support the students.

Debra Murray & Caroline Chubb

“I just wanted to come and visibly show my support as a professor, because sometimes professors are afraid to lose their jobs,” Gabbard said. “I really couldn’t care less, because if I’m going to stand in front of students and tell them that they need to stand up for people, if I’m not out here, I’m a hypocrite.”

Thomas and Sharon Welborne live in Logan County, but work in Bowling Green. Sharon is originally from England, but has lived in the U.S. for 20 years. Both attended the BG Freedom Walkers protest.

“We don’t want his time here and I’m upset with the campus that they allow it,” Sharon Welborne said. “I know there’s free speech and everything, but I think they’ve gone to a lot of bother to protect a guilty person.”

Some were not participating in the protests, but were present to see the large crowds and speak with demonstrators.

Ben Leneave wore a sandwich board saying “print guns, not money” as he spent the evening recruiting people for the statewide libertarian organization, Young Americans for Liberty. 

“There’s definitely a big conservative crowd here,” Leneave said. “We’ve got messaging that we think kind of crosses the aisle, people on both sides can appreciate it a little bit. I’ve had some good conversations with people on both sides of the, you know, Kyle Rittenhouse opinions, and it’s a good crowd. It’s been going well as far as making connections and building our network out here.”

Protestor Devon Harrison holds a sign condemning the Turning Point USA organizations, whose WKU chapter invited Kyle Rittenhouse to speak earlier today outside of Downing Student Union on March 27, 2024. (Von Smith)

Jack McCain, sophomore economics major, was one of the 104 attendees allotted inside DSU Nite Class to watch Rittenhouse speak. He said he supported Rittenhouse speaking on campus, the second amendment and self-defense, but believed in the right for those who disagree to protest.

“It is important to share ideas, even if you disagree,” McCain said. “All that matters is that we see the humanity on both sides. We see everyone’s human. And when you stop talking about stuff, you get violence. And whenever people start to get violent, no progress is made and that’s how our country starts to fall.”

Tiffany Bell lives and works in Bowling Green, and attended the BG Freedom Walkers protest with her husband and one of their children. She explained that she wants a better future for her children, who are biracial, and that attending gatherings like this is important when thinking of the next generation.

“I don’t feel like that’s what Bowling Green stands for,” Bell said. “My husband and I have biracial children … I just want things to be better for them in the future. If we don’t stand up and say something when something’s wrong, then things will just stay the way they are.”

The protests ended shortly after the attendees left the event and Rittenhouse left campus from a service exit of DSU. 

“For Black people in general, protesting is such a valuable form of political expression that I feel like to not be here would be an insult to my community and my ancestors, because why would I not fight for what they’ve been fighting for for centuries?” Giles said. “I have the privileges I have because of their sacrifices in the fight that they fought.”

 Engagement Editor Debra Murray can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow her on X @debramurrayy.

Assistant News Editor Ali Costellow can be reached at [email protected].

Editor-in-Chief Alexandria Anderson can be reached at [email protected].

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