Hundreds of Black Lives Matter demonstrators march Aspen streets
Black Lives Matter events on Sunday, June 7
• A demonstration is set from 10 a.m. to noon, beginning and ending at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen.
• From 4:30-5:30 p.m. in Basalt at the Lion’s Park, a George Floyd Memorial called “Facing Racism and Demanding Change” will be held.
Hundreds of Black Lives Matter marchers took to the streets and parks of Aspen on Saturday with chants against racism and police brutality, culminating with them lying facedown with their hands behind their backs for nearly 9 minutes — the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer pinned George Floyd to the ground before he died — repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.”
The rain-drenched two-hour rally began and finished in the outdoor Mill Street mall area next to Wagner Park, with demonstrators demanding an end to bigotry and complacency toward racism. A significantly smaller crowd, nine people, assembled a Saturday earlier in Aspen, growing to 70 by the next day’s demonstration. They too concluded the day with nearly 9 minutes on the ground.
“Aspen, this town has way too much influence in the world to not say anything,” Jenelle Figgins, one of the event organizers, told demonstrators gathered by Wagner Park before they marched through downtown.
Throngs of rally participants wearing masks and holding posters — “I can’t breathe,” “No justice, no peace,” “Silence is violence,” “Aspen isn’t untouched,” for instance — lined both sides of Main Street from the courthouse to the Hotel Jerome before more speeches were delivered at Paepcke Park.
Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor attended the entire event. He and other local law enforcement leaders have publicly condemned the killing of Floyd.
Pryor said the APD didn’t know what the turnout would be like, which former Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, also in attendance, said was the most attended demonstration Aspen has seen since the rally held Feb. 1, 2003, in opposition to the U.S.’ pending invasion of Iraq.
“We had no idea what to expect,” Pryor said. “We thought the weather might keep it from happening but it’s an incredible turnout. It’s great to see people come out and speak on an issue of importance to themselves.”
Figgins, who is black and a dancer with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Co., spoke in direct terms to the predominantly white crowd. Floyd’s death May 25 might have woken up white America to the plight of black America, but the real work must begin, she said.
“George Floyd is the catalyst, so why is everybody making such a ruckus about one man?” Figgins said. “It’s not one man. It’s the entire system that needs to be thrown out.”
Figgins urged marchers to put pressure on those people with power and influence, and to be relentless if they are to eradicate bigotry and oppression toward blacks and other minorities.
“I know most of y’all know somebody, somebody important,” Figgins said. “You know a D.A., you know a mayor, you know somebody that’s making legislation. You know somebody that owns arts organizations that make the biggest moves in this town. You know those people. Call them out and hold them accountable. Do you have people on your staff, of color? What are their positions? Janitor? Do you have one? Think about that. How many artists have you seen in this community? How many black artists have you put their work in your galleries. … Let’s start seeing the world as it is.”
Rev. Jerry Herships of Aspen Community Church, who also attended last weekend’s rallies, said nationwide protests have led to such results as Wednesday’s arrests of three other former officers for Floyd’s death, while upping the charge to second-degree murder against former officer Derek Chauvin.
“The work is not done,” Herships said. “That just means they are under arrest. There is still a trial to come. And (there are) other trials that have not happened and we don’t know if they will. Trayvon Martin. Breonna Taylor. Freddie Gray. And many, many others. Now, we are not against police; we are against lousy police.”
Herships called Aspen police the “gold standard” for law enforcement, but added nationwide “there is so much injustice, there is so much hatred, there is so much violence, that we cannot stop the work that we are doing.”
Self-examination regarding racism was a major theme of the rally.
“I recognize there are things I too have to practice,” said Sajari Simmons, a black resident of Glenwood Springs, at times struggling for words. “Because I’ve been silent for so long, it hurts to even talk this loud. I would much rather be at home with my 5-year-old daughter and our new puppy, but I don’t have a choice.”
Simmons continued, “I know that I have had very surface-level interactions with many of you, but only because your white privilege and your biases were under the surface. I did not judge you. I still showed you love and now that you have cracked open that surface just a little, I look forward to going deeper in my relationship with all of you.”
Old Snowmass resident Janet Raczak was among Aspen’s set of longtime residents in attendance. She said Floyd’s killing has instigated her to let go of her complacency regarding racism.
“It has been a mistake for me to be silent for way too long,” she said, noting a close black friend of hers had told her over the years that “I’ll never understand.”
Attending Saturday’s demonstration, Raczak, was her way of not remaining quiet.
She held a sign quoting MLK, which read, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
A demonstration is set again from 10 a.m. to noon. Sunday. Participants will meet at Wagner Park.
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