Scores of people turned out for a "Black Lives Matter March" in Great Falls on Friday evening. The participants are protesting what they believe to be systemic racism in law enforcement agencies across the country.
This was the third such event in Great Falls since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th.
Since then, demonstrations have been held across the country, often echoing the themes of “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” following Floyd's death. Floyd died after police officer Derek Chauvin held a knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Chauvin has been charged with homicide, and three other officers have been charged with aiding and abetting a homicide.
Participants met at Whittier Park by the Civic Center and walked across the bridge to the federal courthouse.
Event organizer Cedrianna Brownell was inspired to coordinate this march after attending last week’s demonstration. “I went to the first two protests...and it felt really good to be part of that movement but I felt like I didn't do enough...I don’t want this to lose momentum. I want this to make a change in our society - all over, but especially in Montana,” Brownell said.
Brownell said that the purpose of the rally was to educate the community about controversial topics related to the BLM movement, like qualified immunity, de-escalation training, and defunding the police.
“I know when I say that not a lot of people know what I'm talking about and they just automatically think the worst things. so tonight’s about educating them about those topics and what they can do to actually see that change in our community,” Brownell said. “I research our house representatives, who we have in office, because I want to know who I’m voting for.”
She explained what educating the police means based on her own research of government matters. “I know a lot of people think it means we shouldn’t have a police department...However defunding the police is a divest and invest model. It’s taking those extra funds that we put into the police department that don’t get used and putting them into resources like mental health, therapists, homeless shelters,schools, things of that nature. Because right now we’re asking our police officers to juggle too many hats when we have those people that are trained to do that but [aren’t] getting funds that they need,” Brownell said.
Each of the three demonstrations held in Great Falls have been directed toward a specific focus. The first protest which took place on May 31st, Justice for Geoerge Floyd, was intended to raise community awareness of systemic discrimination. The second march, National Day of Action for Black Lives, held on June 5th, was aimed at educating the community about ways to take action against discrimination in our own community.
Brownell said if the response to Friday's march is favorable, she hopes to plan future marches as well.
The three Great Falls events have all been peaceful and attracted scores of people; contrary to several rumors, however, there were no known out-of-state activists.