Hundreds of protesters gathered peacefully at the Capitol grounds in Helena on Sunday to protest the death of George Floyd. Protesters held signs and called for justice for George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by a Minneapolis police officer.
Since Floyd's death last month, demonstrations have been held across the country, often echoing the themes of “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.” 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.
Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins, who immigrated to the U.S. decades ago from Liberia, stood with the crowd.
"I feel like a lot of people want to pretend that small-town America doesn't have these racial issues, but they are incredibly widespread and incredibly pertinent,” says Teddy Jumpp, the organizer of the protest. "There are things we can do about them but a lot of people like to think that we can't do anything because we are small-town America. A protest like this says, ‘even the little places have our eye on you. We have our eye on the criminal justice system, and our government.’ We're watching and waiting to see how they react to these things."
The protesters held a moment of silence for nine minutes and a so-called “die in” for George Floyd.
Attendees shared their own experiences with racism and discrimination.
"It happens everywhere no matter where you are,” says Joanna Lanius. She attended the event with her family. “Unfortunately, my children have grown up with racism and not nearly as bad as bigger cities but it's still, no matter where you are. It's awesome to see this much gathering for Black Lives Matter.”
The protest was mostly peaceful... but there were tense moments.
An individual became upset over protesters laying down in the street. Police arrested one person for allegedly impersonating a police officer. Law enforcement officers had to get between Black Lives Matter protesters and counter protesters at one point, and authorities are investigating an alleged physical altercation during the protest.
Helena Police Chief Steve Hagen says the goal was to prevent anyone from getting hurt while exercising their rights.
"As far as I know, no one got hurt. I won't call it a successful protest because I would have wanted it to be much more peaceful than it ended up, but, with two rallies occurring at the same time, in the same city, in the same day, opposite views, the fact that, at this point, no one has been hurt, we are very pleased with that," says Chief Hagen.