250 march in Alpena to protest Floyd death
ALPENA — More than 250 people attended a peaceful march today in Alpena, protesting the death of George Floyd, a black man who died under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.
Protestors wore masks and marched from the Maritime Heritage Trail, over the 9th Avenue bridge, down Chisholm Street to 2nd Avenue, and back to the start of the trail. The event began at noon and lasted about an hour. It concluded with the crowd taking a knee and observing an extended period of silence in solidarity with Floyd and others who have been killed in similar situations.
“It’s not black versus white; it’s everyone against racism,” Hannah Berryman told the crowd gathered at the end of the march. “So don’t go home and forget about this. Because black people can’t.”
The walk was organized by 16-year-old Emilie Bruski, who addressed the crowd before the walk began.
“It warms my heart to see all the love and support our tiny town has created,” Bruski said. “The state of the world right now is heartbreaking, but, for a white person, that isn’t even the tip of the iceberg of what people of color have had to endure and are still enduring to this day.”
She encouraged the primarily white crowd in a community that is 96% white to talk to friends and family, educate themselves, and “be the change that you want to see in the world.”
“I will never understand what it is like to be a person of color, but I will stand, fight, and mourn with the black community,” Bruski said. “Racism is sadly still alive in this world … All lives don’t matter until black lives matter.”
A multitude of signs peppered the landscape on the walk, carried by mostly younger people, who made up the majority of attendees. Some older adults attended, but most participants appeared to be younger than 50.
Signs bore slogans including, “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Our Tears Are Not Enough,” “Stop Talking. LISTEN,” and the more creative, “I Can’t Believe We Still Have To Protest This S***.”
Two black men who attended the event were encouraged by the turnout.
“I’m surprised, actually,” said Tim Walker, who has lived in Alpena for about eight months. “I’ve had a couple of situations since I’ve been here that I can speak to, people who don’t like me or say ignorant things. I never expected all these people to come. It’s good to see it, though. It makes me feel a little bit better, a little bit safer.”
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Walker added that he’s not afraid living here, but he really wanted to come out to see what kind of support Alpena would show for the black community.
“It’s crazy all over the United States right now,” he said. “I just wanted to see what type of support would come from up here, how people actually felt.”
His friend, Kenton Hunter, has lived in Alpena for about five years.
“My perspective on today’s gathering is that a lot of people seem to confuse the movement in what’s actually going on,” Hunter explained. “They think it’s human versus human, but it’s not white people versus black people. It’s us against the injustices of America, a system that has not changed since I was born, since my dad was born, since his dad was growing up. Cops get away with a lot. Every person killed, that cop gets off 99% of the time.”
He noted the importance of the Black Lives Matter.
“We just want to let everybody know that black lives do matter,” he said. “And yes, we know that all lives matter. But,” he paused, “we are just trying to help the ones that are in danger right now.”
He said the large number of young people in attendance gives him hope for the future.
“I see all these kids here, from 15 to 18, and it makes me happy,” Hunter said. “I know that I’m bringing my daughter into a world that’s changing. But first we’ve got to change the system that’s designed to keep me down, keep her down, keep anybody that’s not of a special privilege, anybody of color, down.”
Jade Gray was one of those teens who attended the walk.
“I just feel like I want to contribute in some way, and I feel like protesting, posting, signing petitions is what I can do,” Gray said. “I just wanted to be here.”
Protests have rocked cities across the country in recent days. Many of them have devolved into riots, with clashes between police and demonstrators, looting, and businesses burned.
There was a police presence during the walk, with several officers walking alongside those marching to ensure there were no safety issues or altercations.
Alpena County Sheriff Steve Kieliszewski said before the walk, “We want this to be a peaceful gathering. We’re not looking for people to get out of line with things. We want this to be peaceful, so that’s why we’re here, to ensure that that happens.”
He said that, as a member of the law enforcement community, “We are also here to show support. You know, as law enforcement officials, we’re offended by what happened in Minneapolis, just like these folks are. And we want justice to be served.”
Alpena, being a small, mostly white community, is showing that it will not stand for racism, organizer Bruski said.
“I feel like, even though Alpena is such a small town, and we don’t have that much diversity, it’s so important that we get our voice out,” Bruski said. “Because it’s an issue that needs to be dealt with.”
“I think it’s important that, because we live in a predominantly white community, we acknowledge our privilege and then use that to speak out,” Gray added. “I keep seeing this quote: ‘I know that I’ll never understand, but I stand with you.'”
After the walk, Alpena City Police Lt. Eric Hamp said he was impressed by how well the event went.
“This was a peaceful protest,” Hamp said. “That’s how it was advertised, and I’m happy to report that’s what it was. There was a good turnout on a beautiful day. Our role here today was to make sure this was done safely. Understandably so, there was concern from the community, given the nature of some of these protests across the nation. People are nervous. And we fielded a lot of calls in the last couple of days. Just folks, business owners and residents that were worried that this could get out of control.”
He said everything went very well.
“The bottom line is, we police in a very supportive community for law enforcement,” Hamp added. “We’re fortunate, because it’s not like that everywhere. And we want to make sure that everybody is treated equally, regardless of the color of their skin. Everybody deserves to be able to live in peace, and have justice, regardless of their race or nationality.”
According to a Facebook event post, a PEACE Walk: To Support Alpena’s Black and Brown Community is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, starting from the Maritime Heritage Center.