Brashanna Isaacson showed up late but was pleasantly surprised Monday to see the array of people — 100, maybe more — protesting the death of George Floyd in downtown Yakima.
The group gathered at McDonald’s at the corner of East Yakima Avenue and South First Street and marched through downtown, waving signs. Some motorists honked; some jeered out car windows.
Isaacson is black. She said it was refreshing seeing the diversity of people showing support for black lives.
“I never expected for us to be so united in Yakima,” she said. “I never expected that before.”
Monday’s gathering was just one among many nationwide in memory of Floyd, who died at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25.
Another gathering organized by high school students for Floyd was held in Ellensburg, where marchers met at Central Washington University’s Barge Hall and marched to City Hall. There were speeches and the names of black people killed in racial violence were read.
Isaacson said she felt racial tension growing up in Yakima and often was treated differently while working as a 7-Eleven clerk.
“I faced a lot of racism and I’m not even full black,” she said. “Customers would just look at me differently. They wouldn’t say anything to me — just throw their money on the counter.”
But she saw a different side of Yakima on Monday. She brought her two sons, 3 and 1, to the march.
She said the unity brings her hope that her sons will be able to grow up in a community where they feel they belong.
“I just want my kids to grow up and be safe,” she said. “I just want them to grow up and be loved.”
Her friend Emily Easily, who is part Asian, said she supports unity and that’s why she attended.
“I march for unity,” she said.
Tony Visaya and Axel Reyes-Morales organized Monday’s rally in Yakima after taking part in similar ones Saturday and Sunday.
Visaya said Monday’s event was to show support from the community’s youth beyond social media.
“We kind of want to show that kids in Yakima aren’t just online talkers — that we’re really for this,” he said. “We don’t have a large black community here, but we want to show other communities support.”
Chants and signs
“Don’t shoot! Justice now!”
“What’s his name? George Floyd.”
“Hands up. Don’t shoot.”
Those were the chants that reverberated throughout downtown Monday afternoon. Marchers waived signs with the same messages.
Meyri Calderon, who is Latina, said she joined the march because she could identify with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Has she ever experienced racism?
“Yeah, probably my whole life,” she said. “People mispronouncing my name, telling me to go back to where I came from.”
Calderon said she grew up in East Valley.
At the start of the march, Yakima Police Chief Matt Murray and Capt. Jay Seely met organizers, informing them that officers on bicycles would be available to assure the event remained safe without clashes from counter-protesters.
Officers followed marchers as they made their way up and down Yakima Avenue and First Street, stopping at corners at times to chant before moving on again.
“We just want to be here to make sure these guys can assemble and practice their First Amendment right,” said Officer Jarrod Wilske.
He said he supports their effort.
“Absolutely. I totally agree with these guys’ right to assemble,” he said. “We’re just here for their safety.”
‘Am I next?’
The group grew to about 150 people as evening set in. Toward the front, a man held a sign that was straight to the point: “Am I next?”
Walking beside him, DJ Tye Walker held a sign that said, “This happens here: YPD assaulted me.”
Walker describes himself as a churchgoing father with no criminal record.
“When the police see me, I feel like in all of my experience, they don’t see that. They see black skin, they feel more threatened than maybe they do in other situations,” he said. “A lot of times they try to say it’s about their safety, but I don’t feel that it is. I feel that it’s an abuse of power. ‘I have the power. I can get away with this.’ That really needs to be addressed.”
Walker said he has had Yakima police show up to the wrong address — his house — with guns on two occasions. He said he’s also been slammed against a car by local police when he was assaulted by another person. On one occasion, he said, police mistook a friendly exchange between him and a carpool buddy and called in backup, which arrived with flashing lights even after the two had explained they were not fighting.
“We’re asking for inclusion. It’s not an exclusion deal where people need to argue all lives matter. ‘Black lives matter’ means that all lives matter. We just need for that to be recognized,” he said. “We need to come together in unity and basically figure out how to quash the issues between police and the black community, because there is obviously a widespread issue.”
Monday evening, 4-year-old Ttyani Mefi-Fetui pumped her fist into the air as she led the crowd in a chant. “No racist police!” she yelled while also making calls for justice.
Her older sister, Jade Mefi-Fetui, 19, accompanied her.
“Justice means not walking the street worrying about the color of your skin,” she said, adding that she wants that for her little sister. “Who protects us when police don’t?”
While protesters remained impassioned late into the evening, they took pride in the peaceful demonstration.
Miz Dee, 70, owner of the self-named barbecue restaurant in Yakima, stopped her car when she saw the largely youth-led group peacefully and passionately chanting.
“What made me stop was to see the support of the young people. I’m very pleased with the peaceful protesters and that they have concern in little bitty Yakima,” she said. “So many African American brothers have been killed within the last year by unwarranted police brutality.”
She called on Black Lives Matter supporters to continue making their voices heard without violence — to be the bigger people, she said.
Just before 9 p.m., co-organizer Visaya stood on a ledge and lauded the group for their participation.
“Seven hours of peace!” he yelled. “We are out here, we are part of this movement. Black lives matter forever!”