Roughly 5,000 protestors took to the streets of Downtown Riverside on Monday June 1, to mourn the death of George Floyd and march against police brutality.
George Floyd, 46, was a black man from Minneapolis who was suffocated by four Minneapolis police officers who held him down for several minutes after an arrest. One officer, Derek Chauvin, had his knee pressing down on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as Floyd uttered the words, “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe.” The four officers involved in the arrest have been fired but only Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. An independent autopsy report released Monday supports the cause of Floyd’s death as asphyxiation.
This incident is reminiscent of Eric Garner‘s final words, “I can’t breathe,” as he died on the streets of Staten Island, New York after an attempted arrest in 2014. The 10-minute video posted to Facebook has sparked nationwide outcry, with protests around the world rallying in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, demanding justice for Floyd and others like him who have been victims of police brutality.
In Riverside, multiple businesses could be seen boarding up their windows as precaution for the 4 p.m. demonstration and what has been witnessed in Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia as peaceful protests turned violent. Many showed their support for the protestors with messages on their storefronts that read, “#BLM” and “Mexican Owned, we support Black Lives Matter.”
Thousands gathered in front of the Riverside Public Library as different speakers led the crowd in chanting, “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” and “Say his name, George Floyd.” Cars drove by honking their horns in support of the marchers and many individuals could be seen setting up snacks and water stations for those walking by. Protestors waved signs as they marched with statements that read “Justice for George” “I can’t breathe” and “Destroy power, not people.” Many held up their fists to symbolize black power. A counter-demonstration could be seen overhead as an airplane flew by waving a banner that read, “We love the police. USA thanks you.”
Philando Castille, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown Jr.; these are some of the many names that Valerie Whitsett was displaying in front of the Riverside Public Library on Mission Inn Ave., all were victims of police brutality. Whitsett is part of Stop Coalition CA, a statewide coalition of impacted family members whose loved ones were killed by law enforcement. In an interview with The Highlander Whitsett stated, “Cops get away with murder and we want them to be held responsible just like anyone else would for harming someone.” She stated that they are working on statewide legislation on police reform and have worked to pass CA Senate Bill 1421 which allows for disclosure of peace officer records when there are claims of use of force, as well as, AB 392, the CA Act To Save Lives.
Protestors came to a standstill on Orange St. and 10th St. in front of the Robert Presley Detention Center around 5 p.m. where they were met by about a hundred police officers and sherriff’s deputies. A throng of protestors occupied 10th St. all the way to Mission Inn Ave. three blocks away. Many took a knee in front of the officers and prompted Riverside police Chief Larry Gonzalez to do the same.
Marlon Bennett, a Riverside native, spoke to the crowd atop a pedestrian signal on the corner of 10th St. and Orange St. Bennett exclaimed, “we will remain calm, we will remain cordial but we will not move,” as some began to march east on 10th St. Bennet advised the crowd against shouting expletives at the officers stating, “Please do not put yourself in the position to be harmed, especially not in the hands of such powerful and careless individuals.” Bennett told The Highlander, “As long as there is an injustice here, there is an injustice everywhere and as long as there is an injustice there needs to be people willing and ready to fight that injustice. The fight is not over.”
Cameron Allen, a student at Riverside Community College (RCC), spoke to The Highlander about the power of peaceful protest and the power that young people have at such demonstrations against police brutality. According to Allen, “(peaceful protest) shows that we will not back down no matter how much they kill us … I’m going to make sure that the law will change so it benefits all people.” Allen stated that the youth’s most powerful tool is intelligence.
The City of Riverside declared a local state of emergency early on Monday and Riverside County officials established a citywide curfew lasting from 6 p.m. Monday until 6 a.m. Tuesday for everyone with the exception of essential workers, law enforcement and medical personnel. Riverside police and California Highway Patrol (CHP) also blocked off freeway entrances in Downtown from 14th St. to Spruce St.
With the 6 p.m. countywide curfew looming just minutes away, the crowd reduced from several thousand to a few hundred. Officers could be seen peering down from rooftops, standing guard inside the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office and Riverside police helicopter Star Nine was circling the crowd overhead.
By 7 p.m. the protest remained peaceful and only about 100 individuals remained in front of the Robert Presley Detention Center. Several reports show that police began using rubber bullets and pepper balls to disperse the remainder of the crowd. Officials said a small amount of arrests were made for violating the countywide curfew.
Two UCR students who attended the protest spoke to The Highlander about their individual experiences; both highlighted the amount of unity that was evident in the crowd. “I felt even more connected to the struggle my people face on a daily and to those who protested before me,” stated Evelyn Kennedy. “I finally felt what I read about in history books.” She added that students in particular have the power to change the course of the future, “it’s up to us to make a change.”
College students were in middle school and early high school when news broke about the deaths of Trayvon Martin, a 16-year-old boy who was fatally shot in Sanford, Fl. after walking home from a trip to the convenience store in 2012 and Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year old who was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014. “Back then many of us didn’t know what to do. But we’re older now. More educated now,” stated Ashley Taylor, “It’s up to us to break the generational trend of having to march for civil rights.”
Taylor added that at first she was nervous to attend the protest because of the heavy police presence but once she arrived, the passion and anger she felt was overwhelming. She wrote, “I knew I was part of something important … I felt heard. I felt powerful.”