Death of George Floyd sparks solidarity rallies across Alaska

Lacey Davis joined about 250 people gathered for a public “I Can’t Breathe” rally protesting the death of a black man, George Floyd, who was killed after a white officer pressed a knee into his neck while taking him into custody in Minnesota. People held signs decrying violence against black people and calling out institutional racism, many supporting the Black Lives Matter movement on Saturday in Juneau and throughout Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Alaskans in the state’s three largest cities took to the streets Saturday in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died after a police officer pinned him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck. In a widely shared video, Floyd can be heard saying “I can’t breathe,” while being arrested.

Four Minnesota Police Officers have been fired and one, Derek Chauvin, has been arrested and charged with third degree murder. 

Still, the viral video of Floyd on the ground has sparked protests in dozens of cities across the country, some of them becoming destructive and violent — though Alaska’s demonstrations were all peaceful.

Markus Vinson, 16, (left) speaks into a bullhorn at the march he organized in Anchorage on May 30, 2020. He says he was surprised at the turnout and hopes it inspires others. (Photo by Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

In Anchorage a march and a rally were organized in the span of just a few days. 

The noon march began in the city’s Town Square Park. It was organized by a 16-year-old East High School student, Markus Vinson. It’s the first protest that he had ever attended, let alone organized. 

“I wrote a Google Doc, screenshotted it, posted it on Instagram, and it took off from there,” he said. 

He figured about 20 people would show up. But about a hundred people showed up with signs and marched through a quiet Downtown Anchorage chanting slogans like “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” for about 45 minutes. 

Vinson said he was blown away by the turnout and hopes it inspires more people.  

“I’m tired of seeing people tell us people of color how we need to protest,” he said. 

Volunteers at the “I Can’t Breathe” rally in Anchorage place duct tape lines 6 feet apart to guide people where to stand during the rally on Saturday. (Photo by Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

About an hour later a second rally was held in a parking lot in midtown Anchorage. That one featured several speakers including pastors and community activists from Alaska Native and Asian community groups, a moment of silence, a call and response, and poetry reading.

In an attempt to address concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, organizers placed pieces of duct tape 6 feet apart, to guide people as they stood. They also organized a spectator lot where people could stay in their cars and hear the rally broadcast through a radio station.  

One speaker, George Martinez said it was important for him to show solidarity with the black community and other cities around the country. 

“The residents of Anchorage are connected to people all across the country and cities everywhere so this really demonstrates the awareness that we have as a globally connected [and] nationally connected city even though we’re kind of far off in the corner,” Martinez said. 

“We have people from everywhere here. So this is a really great turnout because this demonstrates that we are watching, we’re aware, and we are in solidarity in the call for justice,” he said.

Juneau Police Department Deputy Chief David Campbell and Borough Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs talk amid a crowd of about 250 people gathered for a public “I Can’t Breathe” rally  on Saturday in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

In Fairbanks, a rally and March organized by the NAACP of Fairbanks and Native Movement, drew hundreds.  The Fairbanks Daily News Miner reported the crowd chanting “Enough is enough. Black Lives Matter” as they marched through downtown.  

While in Juneau, about 250 people showed up for a mid-afternoon “I Can’t Breathe” rally – modeled after the one in Fairbanks – at a park in downtown. 

About 250 people gathered for a public “I Can’t Breathe” rally on Saturday,  in Juneau, Alaska. Similar protests happened throughout the state with hundreds turning out in Fairbanks and Anchorage, they’ve also erupted in dozens of cities all over the country. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Juneau’s rally was quickly organized and initially intended to be a silent vigil, however protestors chanted and sang in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Many had signs calling out acts of institutional and systemic racism and standing in solidarity with protests that are sweeping across the country. 

Chants of “Silence is violence,” and “If you see something say something,” urged white protestors and allies of the Black Lives Matter movement to take tangible steps toward preventing violence against black people.

About 250 people gathered for a public rally calling out systemic and institutional racism, and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement on Saturday in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story used the wrong pronouns to refer to Markus Vinson. It has been corrected.

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