The phrase “No Justice, No Peace” has been heard around the country during protests in the wake of police involved shootings of African-Americans. It was a chant that rang out in the streets of Uptown back in September after the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by a CMPD officer.
Now, it’s the title of an exhibit at the Levine Museum of the New South.
The first thing to note about the Levine’s latest exhibit, is the spelling of the title: “K(no)w Justice K(no)w Peace.”
It starts with a history lesson. A timeline near the entrance of the space on the gallery walls begins with the 1960s and ends with the officer involved shooting of Keith Scott.
Another portion of the exhibit is dedicated to reactions from activists, clergy members, journalists, and police officers who were there during the protests that formed after Scott’s death.
A make-shift corridor with large-scale pictures taken over several days of protests gives visitors a sense of what protests looked like. Sound given to the Levine from those who were there plays through speakers, bringing the photographs of police and protesters to life as people walk through.
On the other side of the pathway is a room full of photographs of smiling faces with writing next to them. Get a little bit closer, and some of those faces and their stories are familiar: There’s Keith Scott, Jonathan Ferrell, and Walter Scott.
"We are here attempting to humanize the stories of the people who were lost as a result of police aggression. Put their lives back together, humanize them and their loved ones that were left behind," says Dr. Tiffany Packer, a professor of history at Johnson C. Smith University.
In the wake of Jonathan Ferrell’s death in 2013, Packer assigned her students a project which has since grown: To research the life of a person of color who died after an interaction with police or while in police custody. Part of the assignment involved researching the events that led up to the person’s death and to find pictures of them that showed their life -- playing guitar, a picture with their children, a graduation photo. Those student assignments now hang on the Levine’s walls.
"After it happening so much, it’s like they just become numbers. They are no longer people. We forget their names in a couple of months. What this is attempting to do is to breathe life into their situation," Packer said.
Packer points out that Keith Scott was shot and killed while students were completing this assignment.
"Sometimes professors have to try and justify things. But I didn’t have to with the Keith Scott shooting, it was evident and clear why we had to continue to do this project."
As part of the exhibit, there is an update posted next to the person’s story. For example, the profile on Keith Scott which was written around the time of his death, reflects the skepticism some felt surrounded the officer-involved shooting. The Levine’s update provides context as to where the case stands now referencing the DA’s decision that the officer was justified in using deadly force.
Look around the room there's diversity in the faces you see and stories you read: black men and women, a Native American woman, those who suffered from mental illnesses and people from all over the country.
Overall, the feedback to this project has been positive Packer says.
"I tell my students all the time, just because things are uncomfortable doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be addressed," she added.
This JCSU corner in the gallery echoes the theme of the exhibit as a whole. It’s a community exhibit created with pieces of the community. How people interact with each other throughout the gallery will play a role in how they relate to this exhibit. Conversation, even if it’s uncomfortable at times will hopefully be the thread that runs through each room of the gallery.