Editor's note: some sources opted out of providing last names to maintain anonymity.
Protesters sporting masks and holding signs lined Route 66 outside Flagstaff City Hall in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The protest was one of many held across the country this weekend in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota May 25. Floyd died while under police custody following an altercation with former officer Derek Chauvin, who was taken into custody Friday and has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Floyd’s death triggered various protests beginning in Minneapolis and spreading to other parts of the county. While some protests have escalated to riots, Flagstaff remained peaceful Saturday afternoon. The two-day event, which began Friday drew a large crowd.
Former president of the NAU Black Student Union Arianna Engelhaupt said she was overjoyed at the turn out. With tears in her eyes, she explained her support for the movement.
“I’m tired of seeing my people’s lives not valued. It’s so sensitive, and I keep crying,” Engelhaupt said. “Walking up and seeing all the support — it was a lot, I felt a big wave of support walking up and I just started bawling. Tears of happiness, though.”
Engelhaupt said she has hope for long-term change, but it will likely take time.
One protester, Abigail Glazer, said rather than simply opting out of racism, white people have an obligation to be anti-racist. This is the concept of actively fighting against racism through acknowledging the privileges of whiteness and actively making equitable decisions on the basis of race, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Among the signs in the crowd, phrases such as “abolish the police,” “we demand change” and “dismantling white supremacy starts with the police,” could be seen. Throughout the afternoon, protesters chanted, “What happened to protect and serve?” and “no justice, no peace, no racist police,” among other phrases.
Many signs and chants centered around the phrase, “I can’t breathe” — words spoken by Floyd as Chauvin restrained him by kneeling on his neck. A protester named Heather held a sign covered in these words, as well as last words of other Black Americans who lost their lives to police officers. The largest text on the poster board read, “Honk for George Floyd,” and many did.
People driving down Route 66 showed their support with honks, shouts, waves and signs of their own, hung out of windows. Although some passer-bys had opposing thoughts to share, many onlookers showed their support.
The crowd was full of people of all ages and perspectives. Two counter-protesters, Read and Matt, came out to the protest to "show pride in the American flag," Matt said. Read said he was interested in "proper educated discussions." One 10-year-old protester took the microphone to lead a chant: “Take your knee off our necks!”
Jose Garcia, a visiting professor from Spain spending a sabbatical in Flagstaff, shared his perspective as a European amid racial tension in the United States.
“The way people are gathering to actually challenge power — police power — is something that is surprising for us, and I’m sure it would be surprising for anyone in Europe,” Garcia said. “It is extremely healthy for democracy to have this type of protest because one of the main tenets of the democratic government is being challenged by the people.”
Garcia said race is not openly spoken about in Europe. Although race relations are pervasive in the U.S., he said it is significant our society can acknowledge the problem and act accordingly.
“We as European societies do not recognize we are racist,” Garcia said. “And we have problems with racism.”
The Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013 in response to the acquittal of the police officer responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death. The goal of the Black Lives Matter Foundation is to fight against white supremacy and combat violence inflicted on Black communities at a local level, according to their website. You can demand justice for George Floyd by texting “FLOYD” to 55156.