On Wednesday morning, more than 50 people gathered in Wagner Park to peacefully protest in response to the death of George Floyd, the the 46-year-old black man who died after now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd to the ground by holding his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes May 25.
This was the third grassroots protest against anti-black racism and police brutality toward people of color held in Aspen over the past two weeks.
And while all three peaceful demonstrations have included marches with homemade signs, chants of “Black lives matter” and “No justice, no peace,” and laying face down with hands behind backs while constantly repeating “I can’t breathe,” Wednesday’s protest was different. Wednesday’s protest was youth-led.
Bella Hoffman, who graduated from Aspen High School last weekend, was one of the leaders of Wednesday’s protest. With the help of a bullhorn, she led chants as the young locals marched through the city core.
As dozens of her peers looked on in Gondola Plaza, Hoffman encouraged protest participants, namely those who are white, to check their privilege and do more to support, respect and protect people of color.
“This is a social and racial issue,” Hoffman said. “It’s so important that we come out, especially students because we’re growing up to be the next generation of leaders.”
From left, Paola Martinez, Natasha Jewell and Aishah Acuna expressed similar thoughts.
The three 17-year-olds from Carbondale said they’ve seen their friends of color mistreated by law enforcement and feel it’s really important for their generation to speak out.
“Our generation is the generation that will make a difference, we are super powerful and will fight for what we believe in,” Jewell said.
Martinez, Jewell and Acuna wore masks with “I can’t breathe” written on them at Wednesday’s protest because they feel it’s important to remember and recognize that these were Floyd’s last words.
“People look at your face first so we wanted them to see what he said,” Acuna said of wearing the masks, which she said a friend made for them.
After marching through Aspen, Martinez, Jewell and Acuna joined the rest of the peaceful protesters in laying facedown with their hands behind their backs for 8 minutes, 46 seconds while chanting “I can’t breathe.”
That was the length of time Floyd was pinned to the pavement. Those were some of the last words he spoke before his death.
But it wasn’t just students and young adults participating in the peaceful demonstrations. Officer Alyse Vollmer and Assistant Sergeant Adriano Minniti with the Aspen Police Department also showed up for support.
“We’re all human, we’re all in this together,” Minniti said as he walked alongside students through Aspen.
On Tuesday, Aspen Police Department, Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, Snowmass Village Police Department and Basalt Police Department officials condemned the killing of Floyd and behavior of the officers at the hands of his death as “criminal and and unconscionable, understandably causing disbelief, outrage and despair,” as previously reported.
Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor also spoke to protesters at Wagner Park Wednesday, acknowledging the injustice of Floyd’s death and asking attendees how it can transfer into actions that will make a difference.
He said his department is committed to listening to and supporting all Aspen locals and wouldn’t want to work in law enforcement anywhere else.
“I’m human, we’re all human, it’s the human race we should be looking out for,” Pryor said.
During the roughly hour-long protest, many people stepped out of stores or construction sites to film and photograph those marching past them.
Many of the homemade signs paraded through Aspen were on cardboard or paper, featuring the names of black men and women who have died as a result of police violence and/or anti-black racism, “Black Lives Matter,” and other justice-driven slogans.
MJ Mirano, 20, went a step further, creating a framed photo collage advocating for human rights for all and justice for Floyd.
“I’m mixed myself. My grandpa on my dad’s side is black, I have a lot of black friends and I know people who were killed in Denver,” Mirano, an Aspen native, said of why he made the framed collage.
When asked why he felt protesting in a place like Aspen was important, Mirano said he hopes through in-person demonstrations and spreading information on social media, some of the area’s wealthier people can be influenced to put their money toward making a difference.
“Aspen has changed a lot of things for a lot of people, so why can’t they do the same with this? So we can all be treated equal?” Mirano said.
He went on to say that he feels passionate about his generation speaking out against racism and about police brutality against people of color because they’re the ones who may be able to put a stop to it.
“Our parents aren’t going to be around forever. We’re the next generation that’s going to come into this,” Mirano said. “We’re the future and we’re the change.”
On Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m., peaceful protests are planned to continue at Wagner Park.