Standing Up to Injustice: Eau Claire Rallies Protest Killing of George Floyd
After George Floyd died in custody of Minneapolis police officers last Monday, protests erupted first in the Twin Cities, then around the globe, as communities confronted why this black man – like many before him – had been killed, how state protection can fail its citizens, why complacency persists, and why situations like this happen again and again.
Over the weekend and into this week, protests, rallies, and marches popped up throughout Eau Claire in solidarity with Black Lives Matter demonstrations around the country, which seek to bring awareness to racial injustice, hate crimes, and police brutality.
“It’s not on a couple people, or a few people, even just this group here, to make a difference. This is on all of us. This is our community. And just because it doesn’t affect you personally does not mean it is not your problem.” –Jaylin Carlson, Eau Claire rally organizer
On Sunday, well over a thousand community members – most wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus – gathered in Phoenix Park to march through the streets of Eau Claire, demanding justice for Floyd and accountability for police, as well as mourning the black lives lost, after Eau Claire activist Jaylin Carlson created the Facebook event just 24 hours prior.
Call-and-response chants of “Say his name / George Floyd” and “No Justice / No Peace” rang through the streets as the march rolled through downtown toward Owen Park, where black organizers took to the bandshell, megaphones in hand, to exclaim their profound grief and anger.
“It’s not on a couple people, or a few people, even just this group here, to make a difference. This is on all of us,” Carlson said from the bandshell. “This is our community. And just because it doesn’t affect you personally does not mean it is not your problem.”
After a moment of silence, sun shining high in the sky, the rally dispersed.
Later Sunday afternoon, an online vigil and community discussion organized by Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton and Aja St. Germaine took place on Zoom and was shared live on Facebook. Participants included city elected and appointed officials, state Rep. Jodi Emerson, Eau Claire Police Chief Matt Rokus, as well as faith leaders, musicians, and more. The vigil brought together community members to talk about racial injustice and police brutality on a nationwide scale, as well as what we can do in the Chippewa Valley to nurture black lives and leaders. Poetry, songs, remarks from city officials, and an audience Q&A filled the nearly two-hour virtual gathering.
Two of the participants, Rokus and City Manager Dale Peters, released a joint statement Monday, condemning institutional violence and racism. (Read the whole statement here.)
Derek Chauvin, the now former Minneapolis police officer shown in a bystander’s video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as the man struggled to breath, was charged with murder Friday.
On Monday evening, community members gathered again at Phoenix Park for a silent candlelight vigil honoring the memory of Floyd and mourning the ongoing loss of black lives. For the first hour, the park was completely silent. Folks brought their families, held signs, lit candles, and gathered together without speaking.
As the night pressed on, little by little, people took turns addressing the crowd of about 500 from the center of the park’s labyrinth. Queer activists expressed their solidarity during Pride month, church-goers spoke of stepping up to religious leadership to make change, black children led chants. A chorus of community voices of all kinds came together to say the work is not over.
And it’s not over. This Thursday, June 4, local activist Violet Kilmurray is hosting a Black Lives Matter community dinner in Owen Park to celebrate black lives lost, build community, and push for systematic change. Participants are encouraged to bring picnic-style food to sit and eat with their families. There will be speakers, a donation drive of brown bag meals for those experiencing homelessness, music, spoken word, and a short march. (Public health authorities recommend wearing a cloth face mask, and event organizers encourage six-foot social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus.)
Expect more rallies, marches, and gatherings to occur over the next few weeks as Chippewa Valley residents continue to call for an end to racial injustice.
As we learn about upcoming rallies and vigils, Volume One will share updates through social media and our website.