Over 150 people gathered Saturday in downtown Olympia for a candlelight vigil in honor of George Floyd, the black Minneapolis man who died in police custody earlier this week, and to speak out on the use of excessive force and police brutality against black men, women, and children.
Video from the night he died shows George Floyd pleading for his life and saying he can’t breathe while a white policeman kneels on his neck for several minutes and his body ultimately goes limp.
“We, as a country — and now as a world — had to watch a murder, in person, no holds barred, blatant and in our face,” said Krystafer Brown, who organized the event. “And I think that that was such a catalyst that there’s really nothing… I don’t want to know what would be worse, to get this kind of reaction. This was enough.”
The night began about 8 p.m., with Brown and other speakers addressing a growing crowd in front of City Hall, where the Olympia Police Department is located.
“I thought City Hall was a more appropriate venue, because the issue is with police brutality, and this is their home,” Brown told The Olympian. “So, I feel like assembling peacefully at their home is the strongest message we can send.”
Speakers shared words of anguish at what’s happened to Floyd and others and calls for justice — one speaker listed the names of people in Washington who have been hurt or killed by law enforcement officers, including Bryson Chaplin and Andre Thompson, brothers who were shot by Olympia Police officer Ryan Donald in 2015. Last year, a jury found Donald did not violate their constitutional rights.
The crowd held signs with messages such as “Stop killing us please,” “Black lives matter,” and “I can’t breathe.”
Brandon Rincon, who shared a poem he wrote with the crowd, told The Olympian he feels like people are failing to see George Floyd was a human — that he sees people getting upset over the looting and riots taking place in other cities, and that they’re more upset about that than the loss of Floyd’s life.
“The reality is, this has been going on since 1776. It was sad when it was Rodney, it was sad when it was Till. And it’s still — it’s sad to be brown in America,” his poem finished.
“There’s a lot of anger I feel like a lot of people have right now, because they feel like their voices aren’t being heard,” Rincon told The Olympian. “And I just want what’s best for everybody — I want everybody to be safe, and I don’t want somebody else’s life to have more value than others’.”
Throughout the speeches, vehicles passing the group on Fourth Avenue East honked their horns and revved their engines in support.
About an hour into the gathering, the crowd began to march through downtown and up to the Capitol steps via Capitol Way, blocking all lanes of traffic and shouting chants such as “No justice, no peace,” “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “F*** the police.”
Olympia Police provided some traffic control ahead of and behind the marchers, with a couple officers on bicycles also following the crowd. Once they reached the Capitol, some Washington State Patrol vehicles could be seen parked nearby, but no troopers were seen approaching the demonstrators.
Earlier Saturday, Olympia Police Chief Aaron Jelcick put out a media release expressing his sympathy to the family of George Floyd and the communities impacted, saying it’s right of the community to ask questions about why police use force.
“Olympia Police Department stands for justice for all people,” Jelcick wrote. “We are a police department that is accountable and values all human life. Our police officers are highly trained and are committed to ensuring all people are treated with dignity and respect. The Olympia Police Department will not tolerate the mistreatment of any human being, nor will we tolerate any form of discrimination or racism.”
Brown clearly billed the event as a “peaceful assembly” on Facebook — and it stayed true to its goal. Olympia Police Lt. Paul Lower told The Olympian officers didn’t run into any issues over the course of the event.
The only obvious sign of unrest came about halfway through the march, when a couple of people who weren’t part of the assembly appeared to try to agitate the crowd. But that died down quickly, and the march ended with more chanting on the Capitol steps before the group dispersed.
At one point, near the end of the night, a lone call of “Don’t forget to love each other” was met by cheers.