Kellen Stepler, Capri Scarcelli, Katia Faroun, Griffin Sendek | The Duquesne Duke
Dannielle Brown, the mother of Marquis Jaylen “JB” Brown, who fell to his death from the window of Brottier hall in 2018, began a march Friday morning across Pittsburgh college campuses.
It was Day 70 of her hunger strike.
The march, named “40 for 40” by the organizers, took place on the 19th anniversary of 9/11. It is representative of JB’s jersey number and the 40 people who lost their lives on Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pa.
Brown and the crowd started in Shadyside at Chatham University, before moving to Oakland and addressing students at CMU and the University of Pittsburgh. The group walked past Carlow University before arriving at Duquesne and spent about two hours on campus, drawing rebukes from campus administration.
At 4:17 p.m., Duquesne emailed a statement to all students expressing “strong disapproval” of the march, citing it as “willful trespassing.”
“The crowd today chose to endanger thousands of people unnecessarily,” the administration said. “They utilized bullhorns and microphones, disrupted classes and the work of students these protesters claim to value.”
Wrapping around Art Rooney Field when they first arrived, Brown and her supporters carried large banners — “For your sons and daughters, for the mothers,” marching their way to Academic Walk where students present took a knee to honor JB.
At 1 p.m. Brown began a speech by thanking the student body for “being her children during this time.” She spoke of grieving the loss of her son and sympathizing with the mothers who lost their children on Sept. 11.
Brown began her hunger strike July 4 in protest of how she believes Duquesne’s administration has improperly handled the loss of her son.
Her demands include full access to the investigative reports into her son’s death as well as an independent investigation, while also making body cameras, increased mental health crisis and de-escalation training mandatory for university police.
The university has said it’s attempted to meet her demands by offering an in-person viewing of the files and ordering body cameras. Administrative officials said they tried to reach out to Brown’s attorney to review the files but could not reach him.
Brown, who has remained primarily on Freedom Corner in the Hill District during her hunger strike, said Friday she didn’t think the university has done enough to reach out to her and show its support.
“They really do know how to find me, I’m right there.” Brown said. “I’ve got concerns. I’ve got real concerns for the students of Duquesne University.”
Brown said she does not believe her concerns relate to race, but instead are an issue of police negligence.
“I want to be an ambassador and help you all … help you all fix the problem. It’s about starting a foundation,” Brown said.
She concluded her first speech by reminding the audience why she is doing this.
“Although I want to hold my baby one more time, my work here is not done,” she said.
From there, Brown invited volunteers from the crowd to raise their voices, passing the microphone to students willing to give their perspective on the matter.
Students spoke up about their frustrations at receiving few answers in Brown’s case, giving speeches about justice, peace and “wanting better for Duquesne’s campus.”
Around 2 p.m. Brown, along with the crowd of students and supporters, met at the entrance to Brottier Hall, where JB fell out of his 16th floor window two years ago. Over the next hour, the crowd grew to about 100 people, including Brottier residents and Duquesne students.
Duquesne Police guarded the entrance of the residence hall as the crowd gathered in the circle, surrounding Brown and her supporters. The outside entrance of the building was restricted to swipe-access only.
Multiple speakers addressed the crowd, ending with a speech from Brown, in which she called out Duquesne’s administration. Under her arm she held a sign stating, “16 Stories, 4 Personnel, NO ANSWERS!”
During her speech, Brown gestured to the building’s windows and stated that Brottier installed new windows because of her son. She also motioned over to the area below where JB fell, saying that his “blood spilt over there.”
Brown initiated a moment of silence for JB, and members of the crowd joined her in holding up their fists. She broke the silence with a song that specifically addressed mothers and students.
“For the mothers I will stand. For the mothers, hand in hand,” Brown sang. “For the students, you have rights. For the students, I will fight.”
About an hour after the demonstrators left campus, Duquesne’s administration sent its email to the student body, writing that the crowd violated policies and procedures intended to protect the campus community. They claimed the protest resulted in hundreds of complaints from students, faculty, staff and parents. The email also mentioned that the crowd broke the COVID-19 visitation policy.
Darian Reynolds, president of Duquesne’s BSU, criticized the administration’s response.
“Duquesne seems to be in a continuous loop with reactive email communication resulting in what’s going on,” he said. “I don’t know when enough is enough. I understand Duquesne is trying to protect themselves, but where’s the thought of students in this situation?”