“Say his name,” yelled protesters into megaphones Saturday in Durango.
“George Floyd,” yelled a crowd of about 300 people participating in the Justice for George Floyd March.
Community members marched through downtown Durango to protest police violence and advocate for people of color in response to the officer-involved death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis.
Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, used a knee restraint on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, who later died Monday. Chauvin, who was fired, was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The protests that have engulfed Minneapolis since the incident spread to at least 15 cities around the country.
Saturday’s event in Durango was organized by several groups including Durango Peace and Justice, Four Corners COVID-19 Mutual Aid Network and Western Slope Anti-Racist Action, according to the event’s Facebook page.
“I see a lot of my white, black and brown brothers and sisters – we’re done with it. It has been going on since the dawn of the country. Nothing has changed – riots have happened, protests have happened. Nothing is changing,” said Kate Cohn, a Durango resident who is biracial but identifies as black.
“This is no longer a white versus black thing. This is humans versus racists,” she said.
Protesters walked down Main Avenue carrying signs and calling out chants like “black lives matter.” Cohn’s 5-year-old daughter, Koha, carried a sign reading “Am I safe?” Most of the protesters wore masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at the march.
Durango Police Department officers were positioned along the route, which started at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad depot and passed Main Avenue, Buckley Park and the Durango Police Department. Their strategy was to form a bubble of protection around the march, said Bob Brammer, chief of police. He didn’t hear a word from counter-protesters and none were visible along the march route. Six bystanders interviewed by The Durango Herald supported the protest.
Police agencies and law enforcement experts across the nation condemned the way Chauvin restrained Floyd. The officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes while three other officers did not try to intervene. Brammer called the act intolerable.
“This is not what we do. We swore an oath to protect. This is not how we do our job,” he said.
Tired of the race warOf eight protesters interviewed by the Herald, most said they wanted to make a statement against police oppression and institutional racism, to support people of color or to remember Floyd and others killed while in police custody.
“I’m tired of black men being killed. I’m tired of black women being killed. I’m tired of the race war that is going on in this country because of the racist that is in the White House,” said Yvonne Tree-Davis, a member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.
Police killed 2.8 men per day between 2012 and 2018, and black and Latino men are at higher risk than white men, according to a 2018 study by researchers from Cornell University, University of Washington and Washington University. One in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police, the same authors found in 2019.
Black people also worry about such violence five times more than white people. Hispanic communities worry four times more than white communities. This marks an “emotional injury” that minorities disproportionately experience, according to a 2020 study from university researchers and the U.S. Department of Criminal Justice.
“I’ve always told my grandson if you get stopped by the cops, keep your hands on the steering wheel and hope you get out alive,” Tree-Davis said.
“Durango is a place where everybody has a picturesque image. The reality of Durango is that people are very marginalized here,” said one event organizer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s not that we’re just fighting for people of color. We’re fighting for everyone, but especially people of color.”
A better solutionCecil Davis, who is black and lives in Durango, said the protest shows that people are tired and want things to change, but another approach would be more productive.
“We’ve got to come up with a better solution. We’ve got to come to a mutual understanding of respect for each other,” Davis said. He wanted to see key stakeholders, with the power to make change, meeting to identify solutions.
Other protesters advocated for solutions such as improved screening and training for police officers; more behavioral health and therapy practices; increased accountability for law enforcement and governments; and anti-racism education.
“Every white person needs work. Understand privilege, understand how they’re showing up and just know that the work never ends,” said Evie Toland, a white Mancos resident who emphasized prioritizing the voices of people of color. “It’s a constant practice for your whole life, and we’re not treating it like that.”
Andrea Hennis, a white Durango resident, said white people should use their privilege to speak out because they face less personal danger in conflicts with police.
Brammer called the march powerful and moving. He hoped the event helps to create a platform for people to bring concerns forward, have an open dialogue and move forward to a place where everybody can feel comfortable and prosper.
Cohn, with her 1-year-old son strapped to her chest and daughter by her side, felt supported by the Durango community. She said people need to keep pushing the fight forward.
“I’m tired of crying when I get pulled over, and I’m tired of my kids asking me if I’m going to get taken,” Cohn said. “My kids are not safe, and we’re tired of it.”