Hundreds turned out for a vigil in Cheyenne and a rally in Jackson over the weekend to memorialize the death of a Minnesota man killed by police.
In Cheyenne, a candlelight vigil was held to memorialize George Floyd, who died May 25 after being restrained by four Minneapolis police officers.
In Jackson, a crowd gathered in the town square Sunday for a peaceful protest of the incident.
"Inexcusable:" Candlelight vigil remembers George Floyd's death
By Margaret Austin
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE – Cheyenne South student Isabel McClendon said when she saw the news that another black man had died at the hands of the police, she cried.
The story of George Floyd – who died Monday after being restrained by four Minneapolis police officers because he matched the description of a suspect in a forgery case at a grocery store – made McClendon think of her own family and the fear she carries for them.
“It’s horrible. If I was to bring a child into this world, I’d have to worry every day about what could happen to them,” McClendon said. “I’d have to worry about them just walking down the street with a hood on. It’s scary.”
Friday night, McClendon and her sisters, Elizabeth and Miracle, stood with about 125 others near the steps of the state Capitol for a candlelight vigil for Floyd and other Americans who have lost their lives to racism and police violence. Put on by groups like the local NAACP and Wyoming Equality, the vigil was crowded with signs that said “Black Lives Matter,” “Justice for George Floyd” and “I can’t breathe.”
Similar demonstrations and more severe protests broke out across the country this week as a video of Floyd’s arrest spread on social media. Americans watched Floyd plead, “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe,” as Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, according to the criminal complaint.
At the vigil, Paulette Gadlin said, “It was way back in ‘68 when we were marching for the same old thing. We don’t see it all the time, we don’t hear it all the time, but it’s here.”
In recent years, social media has fueled investigations into the deaths of citizens like Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, who also pleaded “I can’t breathe” with officers during his arrest. While Friday’s memorial was spurred by Floyd’s death, Ambreia Meadows-Fernandez reminded attendees that Floyd’s story is not an anomaly.
“There are plenty of stories that we haven’t heard, and do you know why? It’s because there wasn’t someone with a video camera. As a black person, as a person of color, you should not have to have a smartphone to feel safe,” Meadows-Fernandez said.
The rise of smartphones and police body camera footage have spurred both outrage and disbelief as more instances of excessive force are posted online for the general public to see.
For Cheyenne Police Chief Brian Kozak, the officer’s actions shown in the video were “inexcusable.” Kozak said when a person enters into police custody, it is the sole responsibility of the police department to protect that person’s wellbeing.
“That person crossed the line and became a criminal, and as far as I’m concerned, any officer there that saw that happened and did not intervene is just as responsible,” Kozak said.
On Friday, Hennepin County, Minnesota’s prosecutor announced charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter against Chauvin for Floyd’s death. Many protests and movements sparked after black deaths caused by police in recent years have called for accountability for the officers involved.
Jalissa Fletcher, who spoke at the vigil, said she would like to see criminal justice reform, where police are held accountable for their actions. For her, staying invested in these situations is traumatic and tiring, and she said a change is needed in the way the system operates.
“I would like to see justice be swift and not have to wait for a public outrage,” Fletcher said.
Jackson Town Square rally protests Floyd’s death
By Tom Hallberg
Jackson Hole Daily
Via Wyoming News Exchange
JACKSON — Maleah Tuttle stood on the southwest corner of Town Square.
“Hands up!” she yelled.
“Don’t shoot!” the crowd around her shouted back in a bit of call-and-response that has sounded across the United States over the past week. At least 150 strong at its largest, the Sunday afternoon assembly was protesting the May 25 death of George Floyd.
Floyd, a black man, died after white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. Chauvin and three other officers were fired, and Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Floyd’s death has been met with nationwide protests, similar to the movements seen after the deaths of Eric Garner or Michael Brown, other unarmed black men who died at the hands of police.
“I think that as white-bodied individuals we have to take responsibility for the actions of our collective race,” Jackson protest organizer Luke Zender said.
Some of the protests in major American cities have resulted in violence. Police have fired tear gas and nonlethal rounds on protestors, some of whom have thrown bottles and other objects, and burned cars and buildings.
Jackson’s demonstration remained peaceful, with law enforcement observing from across Cache Street. Throughout the three-hour event, cars slowed to honk. A few drivers brandished signs reading “Black Lives Matter” in a form of momentary, mobile protesting.
Though most passersby appeared to support the demonstration, a couple of drivers rolled their windows down to yell “all lives matter,” a common retort to “black lives matter.” One man stood across the street and yelled that all the protesters should be arrested.
Police have killed dozens of black men and women in recent years, but Floyd’s death has particularly catalyzed widespread social upheaval. Some of the protesters Sunday referenced the video of his death that has been shared across the world. In it, Chauvin holds Floyd down as he pleads for air, telling the officer he can’t breathe.
“I am tired of the violence against black people, and the murder of George Floyd is too much,” Estela Torres said. “Watching it on video was horrific.”
Several white demonstrators spoke about gathering in solidarity with people of color, even though they themselves have not been victims of racism. Hand-drawn signs that said things like “White silence=violence” suggested many feel that ending racism, implicit and explicit, requires the agency of white Americans.
“Jackson is a town that often lives in a bubble,” Hannah Haberman said, “and it’s easy to feel insulated from racial and class violence, but that reality is real here. We’re here to stand in solidarity with the people of color in Jackson and show white people can show up for racial justice.”