Participants in a peaceful Red Lodge demonstration remembering the death of George Floyd called for public policy change and renewed conversations about racism Saturday morning as about 200 people marched down Broadway Avenue South to Lions Park.
"The conversation starts right now. We’ve got to do things in earnest. There’s clearly a problem, structurally speaking, and it permeates all the systems that we live in. we’ve got to start locally and think globally about how to be the change that we wish to see.” a protest organizer told Q2 over the phone.
Demonstrations protesting police brutality have popped up across the state and country since Floyds death on May 25. The African American man was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a Minneapolis store and died while in police custody.
The protest was organized by a group of Red Lodge citizens and word of its occurrence was spread to others via word of mouth.
One of the organizers spoke with Q2 on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. The organizer conferred with others involved in the demonstration to make the choice to stay anonymous.
"We just realized that we needed to make some adjustments for the purity of intention and also for the safety of participants and the community at large,” the organizer said.
The organizer said they have lived in Red Lodge for about a decade, raising children in the town. They said the peaceful protest was made up of only Red Lodge residents.
The group of protesters marched on the sidewalks of Broadway Avenue before observing a three minute 46 second moment of silence at Lions Park. The time represents the duration of which former Mineapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd's neck.
Protesters began their walk at the Roosevelt Center on the south side of town at 10 a.m. Once the group reached Lions Park at 10:39 a.m., the organizer said there were no speeches or chants. The organizer said that the Red Lodge community is made up of predominantly white people, and the protesters would rather not speak for the marginalized.
"I think that there are folks who did not feel like it was a safe thing to be seen out. And I think that there are lots of people in our community who are generally in that feeling of vulnerability. So it didn’t seem appropriate for any white voice to be taking the platform. We just really wanted to say, ‘We’re here and we’re standing with you.' And we are not just going to say it, we’re going to show up," the organizer said.
In lieu of speeches, the moment of silence was directly followed by alarms ringing on the crowd's cell phones, a symbol hoping to deliver a "wake up call" about systematic oppression to the local government and spark conversations toward positive change among the community.
"We really wanted to extend an invitation to leaders across the board: our justice systems, our school systems, health care, community services, just an invitation to enter into a conversation about how we can take actions to make our community more inclusive and safer for people of color, for Natives Americans, for LGBTQ+ folks. All of the community members who we know to feel vulnerable at best and often unsafe at worst," the organizer said.
There were no issues with violence or counter protesters during the short time the protesters marched, according to the organizer. Protesters were asked to be civil and non-confrontational. The contents of hand-made signs was asked to to be civil and encouraging, the organizer said.
"There were folks who honked and waved and raised their fists up open windows. Lots of folks from the shops that line main street came and cheered and thumbs upped and things like that. To my knowledge, there was not one incident of confrontation," the organizer said.
The Red Lodge Police Department was notified about the demonstration, the organizer said. Most people wore masks to prevent COVID-19 spread. The goal was for the protest to remain peaceful as not to damage community businesses, like has happened in many other American metropolitan cities.
"We live here and our neighbors own these businesses. We wanted to ensure that this would be a safe statement, but that it would be a peaceful statement that did not create any problems for the community at large,” the organizer said.
The organizer hopes people in Red Lodge will harness the "burgeoning burst of energy" given to the movement from Floyd's death to help other marginalized groups like Native Americans and others.
"Just like black folks in our country, Native Americans are disproportionately experiencing high rates of police brutality and of police killings and incarceration. We’ve got a problem with missing and murdered indigenous children and women in this state. This is an intersection of so many issues that they’re kind of coming to a head. I think that’s why so many people felt super passionately about standing up and saying ‘we can’t be silent.' Our silence is complicity at this point," the organizer said.
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