OLYMPIA — Hundreds participated in a peaceful protest in a downtown Olympia park on Tuesday, the largest local gathering this week in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
His death has sparked protests throughout the country since Saturday night, including a number of protests in Olympia.
People lined Fourth and Fifth avenues near Heritage Park, holding signs aloft and attracting the honks of passing vehicles. The rally, “A change has got to come,” was organized by Olympia SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) and the Washington Community Action Network. No police attended the rally.
After most people lined the streets, they turned their attention to public speakers, who had set up near the Heritage Park fountain and spoke for about 90 minutes. Organizers sought to elevate the voices of people of color, calling on black people to form the center of the circle, followed by a second ring made up of non-black people of color, followed by white people in the outer ring.
Organizer Ty Brown of Washington CAN praised the gathering.
“This is beautiful,” he said. “There are so many people coming together in the name of unity and community.”
But it’s also been a hard week for him personally, said Brown, who is black.
He said he refused to watch the video of Floyd die because he has seen it so many times before. “It’s not the first time, and it’s not the last time, another brother will die at the hands of a police officer.”
He called for an end to white supremacy, saying people need to continue to show up against injustice every day.
Speaker, ShaMarica Scott of Tacoma, a black woman who recently graduated from the Evergreen State College, said after her speech that she was impressed with the size of the audience.
“This is unity,” she said. “This is what it looks like, and it needs to be like this all the time.”
During her speech, she emphasized the importance of awareness, repeatedly telling the audience, “knew better, do better.”
She feels Olympia is ready to make a change. “I want to see equity,” Scott said
Also listening to the speakers, Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby, along with Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder and Congressman Denny Heck.
Selby said she was there to stand in solidarity with black community members.
“I’m so grateful for this event,” she said. “It’s about peace and building a better community, and I want to support that.”
Earlier in the day, Mayor Selby, the city’s police chief and others met to discuss the possibility of enacting a curfew for the city after protests turned violent Sunday and Monday night.
The curfew is still under consideration, but she can’t make that decision unilaterally. It would require City Council approval directing the city manager to take that step, she said.
City Manager Jay Burney issued a statement Tuesday, saying the city does not want to impose a curfew, but also acknowledged that the protests have been hard on the city.
“This is taking a toll on our employees,” he said in his statement. “This is taking a toll on fragile downtown businesses, still trying to come back from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Selby added during the rally that police have justly been “under a microscope,” but they also have her full support.
“They have been doing an incredible job under a lot of stress and on top of a pandemic,” she said.
About the rally, she added:
“I hope this is the energy that takes us forward,” she said. “We need all these people to be engaged to rebuild our community and build a more equitable society.”