Peaceful protesters rally in Ellensburg

Peaceful+protesters+rally+in+Ellensburg

Mariah Valles

Mitchell Roland, Senior Reporter

Chanting “black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace,” several hundred peaceful protesters marched through Ellensburg on Monday, June 1 against police brutality.

This was one of several protests that have taken place in Ellensburg over the past few days. On Saturday, May 30, a small protest took place outside of the Ellensburg courthouse. And on Tuesday, June 2, a protest through campus was led by CWU faculty member Marissa Barrientos.

The largest protest so far took place on Monday, June 1, when roughly 500 people met at Barge Hall before marching to Ellensburg City Hall in memory of George Floyd, who was killed in Minnesota on May 25, and others who have been killed by police.

Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin while three other officers watched, after Floyd was falsely accused of writing a bad check. Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, and was fired from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Monday’s protest was organized by two local high school students, who wanted people to take action. Organizer Jenna Callan said it was important for people to say enough is enough.

“We thought that being sad and feeling frustrated because of all the stuff that’s happening wasn’t enough. So, we decided to organize this protest as a way to kind of encourage others to think more about their everyday actions and maybe become more active and more self-aware of their own biases and their own prejudices within their own lives,” Callan said.

Once at city hall, protesters gave speeches and read aloud the names of people who have died due to excessive police force.

Whether they had experienced racial issues first hand or not, rally goers said they came out to try and create change. 

Mason Low said he came out on Monday because oppression in America has gone on for too long, and he came to try to do something about it.

“I think we’re the generation that’s willing to change that and actually do something instead of just sitting on the sidelines,” Low said.

AJ Cooper, an assistant coach for CWU’s football team, was one of the speakers at the rally.

During the rally, Cooper said that as an African American, he goes through things every day that “a lot of people can’t understand.” Cooper said while some people get to decide to opt out of conversations around racism, there are those who don’t get that luxury, and have to deal with the effects it has.

“I’m glad that everyone cared to come together,” Cooper said. “We have to continue to educate each other and we have to continue to call out racism when we see it.”

Even if it means calling out friends or family, or leaving those relationships altogether, Cooper said calling racism out is a worthy cause.

“If you really don’t have any emotion for this, ask someone of color. Sit down and have a conversation with them,” Cooper said. “Or the other way around. We have to gain an understanding of each other.

At the end of his speech, Cooper instructed the crowd to make a first with their left hand and a peace sign with their right, while holding both hands in the air. Floyd’s brother has encouraged the gesture as a way to honor his memory.

Cooper said afterwards it was important for him to come out and speak at the protest so that his players could see him as a role model. Cooper said as a coach, it is his responsibility to represent his players.

“I want the young men I’m leading to see me leading,” Cooper said.

As the protest was going on, a truck with a large “TRUMP 2020” flag was continuously revving their engine while driving along roads near city hall. Cooper said he didn’t worry about the few counter protesters, and he was appreciative of those from the community who came to rally to support it.

“I’m not fazed by it. They’re fazed by us,” Cooper said. “Nothing that anyone can do can antagonize or take over the real problems.”

While speaking after the rally, Cooper was approached by an older woman who thanked him for the speech he had given earlier.

“I was so moved by what [Cooper] said,” she said to him. “It was strictly from the heart.”

During the protests on both Monday and Tuesday, those who gathered took a knee to protest against racism and police brutality. During both, rally-goers chanted and motioned for police officers stationed nearby to join them in kneeling. Officers did not and remained standing during this portion.

Ellensburg Police Chief Ken Wade told a group of protesters on Tuesday the reason he did not take a knee during either protest was that the only person he kneeled to was his god.

CWU Police Chief Jason Berthon-Koch did not reply to voicemail requesting comment on the protests.

Rajesh Gill, another rally-goer on Monday, said while he doesn’t fully understand what it’s like, as a person of color he has sympathy towards what African Americans go through. Gill said beyond police brutality, there is a lot of plain racism that minorities in America go through.

“You understand what injustices in smaller communities just isn’t right,” Gill said. “Just coming out and just sending a message is something really worthy.”

Kiersten Kimminau, a rally-goer at Monday’s protest, said he wanted to come out and show solidarity to show it’s possible to protest peacefully.

“The reason that we’re out here is just because George Floyd is one of many who have been killed by police. And it’s been going on long enough,” Kimminau said. “I think we’re here today to just keep showing that we’re not going to back down this time, or ever.”

Annie Schlanger and Jenna Callan, both juniors at Ellensburg High School, were the ones who organized Monday’s protest. The protest was organized because they felt like they could no longer stay silent and felt they had to act against racism.

They said the march was organized to be peaceful and to try and save the lives of African Americans.

“We have observed for years the acts of racism that have been taken towards people of color, and we just decided enough is enough,” Callan said. “We never want another life to be lost due to racism.”

Schlanger said racism and police brutality in America have gone on for too long.

“It’s crazy that it’s 2020 and there’s still people being killed by police for no reason,” Schlanger said. “We just want to kind of bring awareness to that and honor the life of George Floyd and the others that have been killed by police brutality.”

Callan said it was important for people to do more than protest, and to actually take meaningful steps against racism in society.

At the protests, fliers were handed out to participants. One side had the names of people killed by police, while the other side had a schedule, a list of suggested chants and a QR code. When scanned, the QR directs participants to a web page that lists resources on how people can get involved.

“If people go to a march but don’t take any further action, then it’s not really worth it,” Callan said.