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‘It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon’: Protesters reflect one year after murder of George Floyd

Protesters gather on the steps of the State House to remember Floyd, continue to call for action

Silence fell around the steps of the Rhode Island State House, allowing only the noise of passing cars to echo through the marble steps and open green. 

A year after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin, the Black Lives Matter Rhode Island Political Action Committee held a protest Tuesday around the Rhode Island State House that gathered around 40 people.

“It was necessary to honor his name” and “call for action,” Harrison Tuttle, executive director of BLM RI PAC, told The Herald.

Throughout the event, leaders from BLM RI PAC and community members reflected on the past year of activism as well as the purpose and further goals of the movement.

Luis Daniel Muñoz, a community activist and 2022 candidate for Rhode Island governor, spoke about the meaning of progress and justice. Muñoz acknowledged that Floyd’s murder was a catalyst for a nationwide conversation surrounding racial inequality. Still, he stressed that the protests last year and Derek Chauvin's guilty verdict are not signals of tangible progress.

Muñoz highlighted actions that would help end inequality, like divesting from the police and directing funds to local communities. He added that justice should not just be sought reactively; instead, Muñoz stressed that justice should be “proactive” and “tackle the root causes of the violence we are experiencing.”

State Senator Tiara Mack ’16 also spoke about violence toward the BIPOC community, saying that the Black Lives Matter movement sparked “sympathy,” which cannot alone create “tangible change and action.”

Police brutality is just one form of violence embedded in the country’s institutions, Mack said. Reform must tackle other forms of violence caused by larger systemic injustices, such as unequal access to healthcare or quality education.

This is “the violence of a system that does not believe that every single person is deserving of respect no matter their race or their religion,” Mack said. “That is the violence that has still not yet been talked about at the statewide level.”

Because of this, Mack said, it’s important to elect leaders who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, who can end these forms of violence through policy and legislation that will support communities.

Tuttle agreed with both Muñoz and Mack during his remarks and advocated for defunding the police, as well as introducing measures to hold police officers accountable. 

Overhauling the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, for instance, Tuttle argued, would break down another barrier that protects police officers from being held accountable. He added that it is especially important to repeal this piece of legislation given that Rhode Island is the only one of its neighboring states that still has this law in place.

For Musa Pam, director of facilities management operations, logistics and support at the University, Tuesday’s demonstration was the first Black Lives Matter protest he attended. Initially concerned about public health conditions, Pam said that he decided to come to the event because he felt it was important to “memorialize George Floyd and make sure that the one year anniversary of his murder” would be remembered.

Corinne Collier, senior advisor at BLM RI PAC, said that coming to the protest is not only about the magnitude and the increasing momentum of the movement, but also about honoring what it represents.

“I'm honoring my ancestors. I'm honoring my aunt who passed away in my grandmother's arms,” Collier said. “ I am honoring all those people that have been ignored.”

Kate Lohman, who attended many Black Lives Matter protests last summer, said that Tuesday’s event had “a different vibe” than what she expected. She was surprised that turnout was so slim compared to the protests of last summer, one of which drew around 10,000 people.

Still, Lohman says that she does not feel completely discouraged by the diminished crowds. “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” she said.

Mark Fisher, a member of BLM RI, said Tuesday was a “rough day” for him and he was “struggling emotionally” because of the trauma of the anniversary but wanted to come to the protest to support the PAC.

Fisher also spoke at the event and highlighted the importance of engagement and persistence despite the crowds getting smaller.

“That's what Black Lives Matter is, ladies and gentlemen. It was a bunch of ordinary people throughout this country who were fed up and did extraordinary things to make a change,” Fisher said. “This is how you spark the revolution that changed Rhode Island forever.”

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