At Georgia Tech, Tensions Over How to Mark a Student’s Killing by the Police

September 19, 2017

Tim Felbinger
A police car was torched on Monday at the Georgia Institute of Technology after a campus police officer shot and killed a student, and a subsequent protest turned violent. Investigators said the student, Scout Schultz, leader of a campus LGBT group, had called 911 about a suspicious intruder and had left three suicide notes.
Hundreds of people gathered on Monday night at the Georgia Institute of Technology to mourn a student who had been shot and killed by a campus police officer late Saturday night. Someone read a letter from a friend of the student, Scout Schultz. A choir sang "I’ll Be There," by the Jackson 5. Assembled around a monument were Georgia Tech students and others in the area who knew of Scout Schultz’s activism.

"It was a beautiful, beautiful ceremony," said Sara Grana, a student at nearby Georgia State University who attended the vigil and who, like Scout Schultz, uses they/them pronouns, and so is identified in this article without a courtesy title. (Many people who identify as nonbinary or gender queer use they/them pronouns.) Grana said they had come to know Schultz through shared causes — Schultz, a senior computer-engineering major, was president of Georgia Tech Pride Alliance, an LGBT student group. Grana said Schultz’s "radical ideas" had drawn the two together.

But when the peaceful vigil ended, some attendees felt that the important issues surrounding Schultz’s death had not been addressed — issues that they felt would have been important to Schultz.

"After the vigil, there were a few people, most of whom were Scout’s close friends, who expressed being upset with how the vigil was handled," said Taylor Alexander, another Georgia State student who was at the vigil. "Scout was a very political person, and the vigil to them — and to a lot of people — it felt very sanitized and not in line with what Scout would’ve wanted."

Many people at the vigil said a public discussion of Scout’s death followed the ceremony. Why hadn’t the police officers been carrying nonlethal weapons? Why had they not tried to de-escalate the confrontation? What could be done to improve mental-health resources on the campus?

‘Shoot Me’

Late Saturday night, campus police officers responded to a 911 call, later revealed to have been placed by Schultz, about an unspecified individual armed with a gun. Within minutes, the campus was locked down and the officers encountered ­Schultz — who matched the 911 caller’s description but did not have a gun — holding what Schultz’s family has since said was "multipurpose tool."

The officers attempted to get Schultz to drop the tool. In videos of the incident that have surfaced, Schultz can be heard saying, "Shoot me," while approaching the officers. One of the responding officers fired a single shot, fatally wounding Schultz.

Schultz’s mother told The Atlanta Journal-­Constitution that Schultz had received a diagnosis of depression at an early age and that school-related stress might have led to the encounter with the police. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said three suicide notes had been found in Schultz’s dormitory room.

On Monday night some of the vigil attendees then marched from the scene of the vigil to the campus police station. Several attendees and reporters at the scene said the violence that followed had been carried out by people who had traveled to the campus just to rally — not Georgia Tech students.

“The purpose of the vigil was being co-opted.”
Alexander began marching with the group, but left after violence broke out. "The purpose of the vigil was being co-opted," Alexander said, adding that they believed it was violent groups like antifa "who really incited physical violence, who incited damage of property, things like that."

Videos and photos taken at the scene show a police car on fire. Three people — one student and two nonstudents — were arrested, according to the police. Two officers were treated for minor injuries, the police said.

The university’s president, G.P. (Bud) Peterson, said in a letter to the campus that the violence had been caused by "several dozen others intent on creating a disturbance and inciting violence. We believe many of them were not part of our Georgia Tech community, but rather outside agitators intent on disrupting the event."

A lawyer for the Schultz family, who has questioned the police’s use of force in the incident, released a statement in which he condemned the violence of protesters, saying that "answering violence with violence is not the answer."

On Tuesday a student placed boxes of chalk at different locations on the campus, encouraging people to write positive messages on sidewalks for a community in pain. "We ♥ LGBT and GTPD," one message read. "We are one, we are GT," said another.