The ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Black Lives Matter* peaceful protest drew an estimated 1,000 protesters to downtown Auburn June 2. Organizers Dalayna Wallace, Claudia Flores, Erandi Flores Bucio, and Jasmine Smith welcomed protesters with a reminder of why they were gathered, and that the protest was to remain peaceful.
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Speakers for the protest addressed those in attendance from the steps of City Hall.
(in order of appearance)
Nancy Backus – Mayor of Auburn
Rachel Heaton – Muckleshoot Tribe
Willard Bill Jr. – Muckleshoot Tribe
Virginia Cross – Muckleshoot Tribal Council
Roxanne White – Nez Perce tribal member, from Yakima Nation
Sonia Joseph – Mother of Giovonn Joseph-McDade, who was shot and killed by a Kent police officer in 2017
Kathleen Strickland – Mother of Enosa (EJ) Strickland Jr, who was shot and killed by an Auburn police officer in May 2019
Elaine Simons – (Foster) Mother of Jesse Sarey, was shot and killed by an Auburn police officer in May 2019
Rosalie Fish – from the Muckleshoot lands, enrolled in the Cowlitz Tribe, spoke of Renee Davis, who was shot and killed by King County Sheriff’s deputies in 2016
Roxanne White spoke about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
Victoria Pacho – Auburn resident, who spoke about her personal experience with Auburn police.
Dalayna Wallace – protest organizer
Wallace ended her speech with 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence. This is the amount of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck, killing him.
“I was proud to see the youth leading the protests here in Auburn and grateful to see the strong support of the Muckleshoot Tribe. We cannot erase our nation’s legacy of racism, discrimination, and injustice. But we can listen, learn, and we can change,” said Auburn City Councilmember Chris Stearns, who attended the protest. “We will not tolerate racism and hate. I stand with those who demand institutional change and real accountability.”
March to the Auburn Justice Center
After this time to reflect, protesters marched from City hall to the Auburn Justice Center. They remained there for no more than 15 minutes, with chants now common among protests throughout the country, “hands up, don’t shoot,” “say his name,” “no justice, no peace,” “Say her name.” While profanity was not absent from protester’s shouts, there were no overt acts of aggression. The crowd knelt for a time, loudly urging the police standing in front of the justice center to join them. The officers, most of which were not from Auburn, did not engage with the protesters.
Following the organizer’s lead, the protest returned to City Hall in a peaceful march down Main Street. Holding signs with messages supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, protesters continued chants condemning systemic racism and police brutality.
The official protest ended with a parting message of thanks from organizers at City Hall.
Black Lives Matter Protest, Continued
Though the bulk of the protest departed the Justice Center, roughly 200 protesters remained. Chants for officers present to kneel continued, at times elevating to fervent demands. The protest shifted from in front of the Justice Center to Main St and D St.
Officers, not from Auburn, in tactical riot gear with bikes, held a line with additional officers behind them. Protesters continued to shout as a group, with some protesters spitting barbs at officers. At one point, with no obvious prompt, officers put on gas masks.
As curfew neared, a shift in the protest was felt. The protesters knelt, their chant for officers to join them became less a demand and more a question of why they wouldn’t. Connecting with a protester, Auburn Police Commander Cristian Adams stepped forward and knelt to hold hands with a protester, reassuring her change was possible.
As Adams and the protester spoke, Auburn police officers removed their masks and took a knee. The remaining officers with masks also removed theirs.
Protesters began to speak and share stories. One protester passionately asked what police would do to hold fellow Auburn officers who abused their power accountable. With no response, she repeated the question.
Again no one answered, until Officer Kory Williams came out of nowhere, embracing her in a hug. What words were, or were not, exchanged are between them.
Other officers and protesters also spoke and interacted, mirroring the positive interactions of Adams and Williams. The crowded thinned as the night darkened. As curfew came and passed, the protesters peacefully dispersed.
Beyond a kerfuffle between an open-carry individual making remarks they had a right to make, but some took offense to, there was no conflict. A lemonade bottle of water toss later, and the heated exchange was extinguished by fellow protesters. Officers spoke privately to the man before he departed of his own free will.
Anger may have been present in many protesters, but there is no denying it was passion that fueled the June 2 protest. The question now is, what next?
Watch the Black Lives Matter protest:
*This protest was not an official protest of the Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County Chapter.
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