Broomfield walks for black lives

Black men and women shared experiences — having racial slurs directed toward them as children, taking precautions with normal activities that others take for granted and quieting their voices.

Imani Williams, one of several speakers at Monday evening’s Solidarity Walk for Black Lives, asked people to examine their privilege and then use it to help others. Staying silent isn’t enough, she said. There is nothing wrong with seeing colors, as long as those differences are celebrated.

“This is everybody’s issue that needs to be fixed across political lines,” Williams said . “There is no reason I should be up here in 2020. All lives cannot matter until black lives matter.”

Hundreds chant, hold signs and march down East First Avenue during a peaceful solidarity march to protest racial injustices in Broomfield on June 8, 2020. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

The solidarity walk was inspired by weeks of protests across the United States — including Denver, Boulder and Longmont — in response to the death of George Floyd, a man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. Floyd was arrested after he allegedly used a counterfeit bill at a convenience store.

Organizers intended the Broomfield event to be peaceful and warned potential attendees that if they were wanted a fight to “take it elsewhere.”

Broomfield police estimated between 500 and 600 people joined the walk, which was organized by Makenzie McLernon, Bahar Nabiyar and Jody Britton. Organizers estimate the number was between 600 to 700.

Broomfield resident Nyasha Williams, a kindergarten teacher, children’s book author and local social justice advocate, believes children deserve to see themselves represented in literature. Her book “What’s the Commotion in the Ocean” features a black mermaid and is a rhyming story about saving the oceans.

When talking about protests, she pointed to the difference between protesting for things like personal safety and clean water in Flint, Michigan, compared to recent COVID-19 protests that stemmed from a desire to golf, get a massage or haircut.

“Choosing to be racist isn’t going to cut it anymore,” she said, prompting loud cheers from the crowd. “It’s choosing to be anti-racist.”

As a newly wed, Nyasha Williams and her husband talk about one day starting a family. When she read about George Floyd, she went “numb” and shared fears with her family about not wanting to have children and bring them into this world. Those unborn children deserve better, she said.

Jamie Ocasio, left, kneels for 8 minutes and 46 seconds along with hundreds of other protesters during a peaceful solidarity march to protest racial injustices in Broomfield on June 8, 2020. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

Nyasha Williams talked about the emotional toll people have experienced and how people talk about a “getting back to normal” during a global pandemic, but said that normal has been “extremely toxic for us.”

Broomfield held a town hall Thursday night, specifically on public safety. A man who identified himself as Akeem talked about being in the “1%” of the black community in Broomfield. He wanted to speak out and say Broomfield is not racist. He personally has not experienced racism in Broomfield or any place in the country where he’s lived.

“I think this has been way overblown,” he said.

At the town hall, and before the meeting, residents asked about gathering in support of police. One woman in particular inquired about her safety.

Officers did not have a large presence at Monday’s protest, mostly hanging back during the speeches and directing traffic so people could walk down Spader Way and then the sidewalk of E. 1st Avenue. From there protesters kept to the sidewalk along Main Street and ended by kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the length of time the officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck — at Community Park.

Broomfield Police Chief Gary Creager has voiced full support for all residents’ right to peacefully protest and invited those planning something to call the department to help orchestrate safety measures.

As part of the presentation, Ward 3 Councilwoman Heidi Henkel read a letter from a Broomfield resident whose family has been in the city since 1975, but who didn’t feel safe speaking out or sharing her name. The letter talked about growing up fighting to be an equal, but that “hate is real.” She recalled a recent incident where she and her son were “treated ugly” at a local business that they will no longer patronize.

She asked that people continue to fight for equality after things calm down.

“I thought the community was built on love and togetherness,” Henkel read from the letter, “but I still don’t feel like an equal.”

City council members Stan Jezierski, Sharon Tessier, William Lindstedt, Kimberly Groom, Guyleen Castriotta and Jean Lim also attended the march, along with Broomfield Mayor Patrick Quinn.

Rachell Buell, one of the speakers, identified her mother as a white woman and father as black and Native American. Her father works as a forensic psychologist who works with police departments on screening applicants on implicit bias. For her, Monday’s event was not taking a stand against police, while recognizing some departments need better policies and training.

“I believe in a criminal justice system that does right by everybody,” Buell said.

Nor does she believe that systemic racism can be solved by one facet of a community. During her comments to the crowd, she asked adults to not only teach their children to love everyone, but for themselves to speak out against systemic racism, citing the racial disparity in the prison system and discriminatory legislation pushed by politicians.

“We have this caricature of racism in this country of a white man spewing vitriol,” Buell said. “Racism in 2020 doesn’t look like that.”

Odeng Lomujalamoi, who has lived in Boulder since 2011 and in January moved to Longmont, moved to the states from South Sudan. He shared stories, including one where a man told him he couldn’t ride his bicycle through a public area in Longmont. He was then followed by the man in his car.

Once in Boulder when he was walking home from class, three officers approached him because they got a call of someone walking in the neighborhood. The officers checked his ID and let him go.

“I laughed,” he said. “Why send three officers to check on a black person with a backpack filled with books?”

Lomujalamoi talked about the fear he senses when, pulled over for a traffic stop, an officer puts his hand to his gun holster and keeps it there once he sees Lomujalamoi in the driver’s seat.

Lamont Gentry, 52, talked about his 32 years working in law enforcement and remembering when Rodney King was beaten by Los Angeles police. While off duty and not in uniform, Gentry talked about instances of being discriminated against and racially profiled to the point where pulled out his own badge to prove he was also a police officer.

People who ask what Floyd did are looking for justification for the Minnesotan officers, Gentry said, and how the officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck could have felt he was simply doing his civic duty. While he doesn’t speak on behalf of all black people, he encouraged people to have conversations with people of color and try to relate on something.

“Minorities want to be looked at for their individuality,” he told the crowd. “You’re a minority just because you’re here.”

As her family marched toward Community Park, Jemma Norcross, 7, started a “this is what democracy looks like” chant, which was quickly picked up by people walking nearby.

“I didn’t know she would be so outspoken,” her mother Leslie Norcross said. “It’s a proud mama moment.”

Norcross said Jemma and her brother Cooper, who will be a sixth grader at Broomfield Heights Middle School in the fall, worked hard on their signs. Jemma especially wanted to support her classmates at Emerald Elementary School, which has a diverse makeup. The day before the solidarity walk, Norcross and her husband had a long talk with their children about racism and what has been going on in the nation the past couple of weeks.

“I don’t think we give our kids as much credit as we should,” she said. “They get it.”

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