Darius Tarver. Family photo.
Darius Tarver was killed on January 21. He was a senior at the University of North Texas in Denton.
For a full month after they killed him, Denton Police spun the same lies that cops always use to justify killing Tarver in cold blood. The cops said he was crazy, on drugs, that he charged at officers with a deadly weapon, that he fought through being tased to attack the cops. The cops used these lies to twist the story and to try to prevent widespread public backlash. Tarver’s father, after seeing the body-cam footage, said that it contradicted all of these lies. He, alongside UNT students and community members, called for the public release of the footage.
These demands coalesced into popular actions that escalated in early March. On March 3, as COVID-19 was on the verge of shutting down schools and sending students home, the UNT Black Student Union and Black community members mobilized to demand the release of the body-cam footage from the night of the killing. The movement achieved the public release of the footage on March 5.
This footage proved to students and the community what they had suspected when they began organizing for its release. Darius Tarver had been recovering from a traumatic injury to his head caused by a car accident days before. He was in a distressed state which required mental health professionals, not trigger-happy police. Police encountered hi muttering to himself and walking with a frying pan. Tarver did not provoke the police; he approached them calmly. Tarver did not attack the police; he was tased for not “obeying orders,” and then killed for trying to get up.
Over five months have passed since Darius Tarver was killed, during which many world-historic events have occurred. What has changed in Denton, Texas?
Months of inaction
The release of the body-cam footage has been the last and only thing the city and police department has done since the killing. The officer that killed Darius Tarver is still patrolling the streets. However, Black students at UNT have continued to mobilize.
Coalition 1956 is a collective of UNT students dedicated to making the university an anti-racist institution. The coalition created a list of demands and submitted it to University President Neal Smatresk. The demands include defunding the UNT Police Department and using those funds to invest in African and African Diaspora studies, divesting from the Denton Police Department and acknowledging the anti-Black violence students face from police on and off campus.
These demands were met with silence.
Denton and the Movement for Black Liberation
Liberation News spoke with Yolian Ogbu, an organizer in Denton, to discuss the last few months on the ground.
“The case caught the mainstream for a couple of weeks and then COVID hit and students had to leave. It has been really frustrating.”
However, Darius Tarver’s name has come back into conversation with the mass uprising taking place across the country.
“That struggle is one of the main reasons people are calling to defund the Denton police and UNT police,” Yolian said.
“That case shook Denton and a lot of students in Denton. Knowing that the cop is still on the force, you’re Black and in Denton and you never know if that killer is gonna stop you.”
Yolian went on to discuss how the movement in Minnesota, and particularly the University of Minnesota’s movement to defund their police, sparked students to do the same locally:
“Students, elders and whatever groups have been trying to find a way to apply what’s happening on a broader scale to their local communities. The student body president at the University of Minnesota led the charge in calling for defunding of police and reinvesting that money into other services that could be of more use to Black students. The students in Minnesota winning the case caused a ripple effect across campuses around the country.”
She continued analyzing the local situation, noting how different cities and areas were investigating the history of anti-Black police violence in their communities. The Confederate statue in downtown Denton was recently moved after decades of effort. However, students know this is not enough.
“Defunding the police is just a step toward abolition of police,” she said. “It’s common sense that something that arose from slave patrols is worthy of abolishment.”
The roots of policing have been analyzed more closely since the mass uprisings began, and on a popular scale. Their history of protecting capital is as relevant as ever following the death of George Floyd for an alleged counterfeit $20 and narrative of “rioters destroying property” at protests.
“They are not only here to protect white supremacy but also capital.”
The death of Darius Tarver at the hands of the Denton Police has made Black students scared within their school community. They are harassed by campus and city police. And in the worst instances, they are imprisoned or killed. All progressive and revolutionary people should stand with them in their struggle against racist police terror.