As a line of protesters that stretched two blocks long marched down Highway 395 in Hermiston on Saturday, June 6, they joined in chants that have been echoed by hundreds of thousands of people around the world in the past two weeks.
“No justice, no peace! No racist police!”
“Hands up! Don’t shoot!”
“Say his name! George Floyd!”
The protest against racism and police violence was Hermiston’s second in a week, drawing a steadily swelling crowd of area residents holding signs with messages, such as “Stop killing black people” and “End police brutality.”
They started at the corner of Highway 395 and Elm Avenue, and after about an hour marched to the festival street in downtown Hermiston. There, they began with an 8 minute and 45 second long moment of silence — the amount of time that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was seen kneeling on George Floyd’s neck during a video that sparked protests across the world.
Downtown, standing beside a memorial to Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black Americans killed by police, Hermiston resident Jackie Linton said the protest was not about hating police, but rather about justice.
She outlined reforms to policing in America that she wanted to see, including additional training, a ban on chokeholds, protections for officers who intervene when they see a fellow officer doing something wrong, and having the FBI handle investigations of officers accused of assault or murder.
She said a majority of police may join to protect and serve, but wrongdoers need to face justice.
“We want them tried and found guilty and sent to prison where they belong, not on the police force, not sent to another state,” she said.
Linton, who is black, listed things that other unarmed black Americans have been doing while shot and killed, including sleeping, jogging and holding a cellphone.
“We don’t want our police officers being trained to kill on sight,” she said. “They should be able to recognize a gun. Don’t just pull up and start shooting and ask questions later when I’m laying on the ground dead.”
Patrick Temple read a message on behalf of Mitch Thompson, who had wanted to speak at the event but was unable to attend. The message explained Thompson’s reasons why white Americans should join the Black Lives Matter movement as allies and strive to listen to their experiences.
He said the “black lives matter” chant doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter, just as wearing pink for breast cancer in October isn’t done to spite people with other types of cancer. He said protests against racism make some white people uncomfortable, but protest is how social progress, such as women getting the right to vote, has always been made in this country.
“It comes from a deep place of privilege to think that a crisis isn’t occurring simply because it doesn’t affect you,” he said.
Other speakers, such as John Carbage, the president of the Hermiston Cultural Awareness Coalition, encouraged people to vote in every election and to run for local office. Vanessa Thomas, who sang “Change is Going to Come,” told listeners to speak up and call people out when they see racism in their community.
While there wasn’t a visible police presence at Saturday’s protest, Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston posted a message to Facebook on June 8 saying he was glad that the community’s protests over the past week had stayed peaceful.
He offered suggestions of other ways they can get involved with policing locally if they have concerns.
He encouraged people to attend meetings of the city council, which approves budgets and policy for the police department, and to attend the city’s quarterly public safety committee meetings for more in-depth discussions about the department. While ride-alongs with officers have temporarily halted due to the pandemic, Edmiston also encouraged people to participate in those once they start up again.
“At HPD, we believe in transparency, accountability and we actively seek out employees who want to live and raise families here,” he said, noting the average HPD officer has lived in the region for 27 years.
According to Edmiston, during the 2018-19 fiscal year they made 1,271 arrests and used force in effecting those arrests 20 times, for a rate of 1.6%, and engaged in eight pursuits.
As she was leaving Saturday’s event, Lucia Antonio said she was glad she had come out to support a worthy cause. She said as a little girl growing up in West Richland, Washington, her family had been the only people of color in their neighborhood, and she had been the only nonwhite person in her kindergarten class.
“This is the beauty of people coming together,” she said of the protest. “We’re leaving happy, with full hearts.”