Editor’s note: some sources opted out of providing names to maintain anonymity.
On any given day this past week, voices chanting “Black lives matter” or “No justice, no peace, no racist police” could be heard echoing off buildings downtown and reverberating through campus. Protests — often multiple per day — in the name of George Floyd and other victims of police brutality continued last week and show little sign of stopping any time soon.
Protests broke out in Minneapolis May 25 following the death of Floyd, spreading throughout the country and eventually abroad. Since then, the four officers involved in Floyd’s death have been charged. The police officer who asphyxiated Floyd has now been charged with second-degree murder, raised from the initial third-degree charge.
Protesters across the country and in Flagstaff see this change and intend to keep fighting. Following the prosecution of the officers responsible for Floyd’s death, protests continue with the goal to seek justice for Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and Tamir Rice, among many others.
During a Thursday afternoon demonstration in Heritage Square in downtown Flagstaff, one organizer took the microphone to share positive changes that have occurred since the protests began. These changes include, but are not limited to: $250 million of the Los Angeles Police Department’s nearly $2 billion budget will be cut and reallocated, Taylor’s death continues to be investigated by the FBI and the Minneapolis City Council intends to disband the city’s police force and “invest in community-led public safety," according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota.
June 2 saw a crowd of over 1,000 demonstrators and protesters who eventually filled the streets. Marching from Flagstaff City Hall to the courthouse to Heritage Square, the crowd soon stopped traffic on Route 66 and Milton Road. For approximately one hour, protesters overtook the streets. At 7:45 p.m., protesters laid across the intersection of Milton Road and Plaza Way, hands behind their backs and chanting, “I can’t breathe.”
Moments of silence, repetition of the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and kneeling demonstrations have been throughlines of the protests. There is a sense of solidarity and community — many come equipped with cases of water and snacks for fellow protesters. On Saturday evening, 50 Domino’s pizzas were delivered to city hall to feed the crowd.
Protester Justis Daniels said there is unity in Flagstaff, which is a message that needs to be heard outside our city’s borders. The last week of protests around the country have seen violence and excessive force used by police officers. Daniels said this brutality is not necessary and Flagstaff sets that example.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement June 3 acknowledging credible reports of "unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officers, including indiscriminate and improper use of less-lethal weapons and ammunition." Among the tactics used to disperse peaceful protesters are tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper balls, which all pose a serious threat of injury, according to the statement.
Additionally, the ACLU among other civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration Thursday, stating constitutional and first amendment rights have been stripped from protesters through excessive violence by police, according to an NPR article.
On June 4, an elderly man at a protest in Buffalo, New York approached police who were wearing riot gear and was shoved to the ground. He immediately began bleeding from his ears and went limp. This incident was caught on film by an NPR reporter. The video is part of a Twitter thread containing nearly 400 incidents — as of June 7 — of police brutality caught on film at protests since May 25.
Flagstaff’s protests have been without excessive force with very little police presence. Daniels said he and other organizers sat down with Flagstaff police to ensure safety and protection. Police officers coordinated with protesters to determine march routes and provided medics on standby. Overall, the police presence at Flagstaff’s protests has been small, but varies depending on the size of the crowds.
Notably, Flagstaff’s population and presence at these protests is primarily white. According to the United States Census Bureau, white people make up for approximately 78% of the city’s population, while only 2.3% is Black. The cities where people are being arrested in masses for breaking curfew and experience excessive force and general police brutality during these protests, like Los Angeles, New York or Atlanta, tend to be much bigger and more diverse.
On June 4, police chief Kevin Treadway spoke to the crowd gathered outside Flagstaff City Hall to express his support.
“A lot of what you have to say, we agree with. What we saw in Minnesota with George Floyd — that was unacceptable,” Treadway said.
Although the sentiment was appreciated by some, others disapproved of these efforts to unify protesters with the police. One protester, Marcus, said statements made by police amid tension mean nothing unless they seek real systemic change.
“Any type of statement given out by police while they aren’t making active legislative change — it’s all just thoughts and prayers in cop language,” Marcus said. “This is the bare minimum. I won’t congratulate them for doing their job.”
Daniels said in order to achieve change, things need to be addressed within and outside the system. Discussions about exactly how to reform the police have surged amid protests and calls for justice. Some want reform, while others call to defund police. Some want to abolish the system altogether. Across the crowd, signs that read “Police the police,” “Arrest the cops, free the people,” “Hire less cops” and “Blue lives murder” echo this sentiment.
“White people grow up in a society that tells them racism is over,” a protester with a sign that read, “Serve and protect was never the goal” said. “If we aren’t constantly moving the world to a better state, what’s the point of living?”
The protester said society and its institutions don’t support or care about many people, including the Black community. Therefore, change needs to happen, she said. Another protester with a sign that read, “Divest the police, invest in the community,” said the best way to achieve that change is to reallocate police funding. She said if cities move around these huge police budgets and allocate funds toward other programs like mental health, education and housing, there will be less need for the police.
If one would like to show support for the cause, show up, sign petitions and donate. Resources can be found at blacklivesmatter.com.
“There is no reason to be silent,” Daniels said. “Silence is complacency.”