“Whether you’ve got black friends, black co-workers, black neighbors, black family, or even if you don’t have anybody black in your vicinity, this is your fight, too.”
A day after graduating from high school, Rochester resident Darrell Washington shouted those words Saturday afternoon to the hundreds that had gathered at the city-county Government Center in downtown Rochester.
“This isn't just a black issue,” Washington said. “It’s a human rights issue.”
The group was part of the "Rochester People’s Rally: Justice for George Floyd (BLACK OUT)" that started earlier that day at the recently renamed Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The choice of location was purposeful, according to event organizer Manal Abbadi, of Rochester.
“We want this to be a peaceful protest, and Martin Luther King stands for peace,” she said. “So we chose this as a place to gather peacefully and stand in solidarity with our African-American brothers and sisters.”
Abbadi said she and others organized the protest as an outlet for those in the community needing to gather and stand in solidarity. She said the goal was to give people a platform to speak and raise awareness about injustices occurring around the state, country and world.
“We want to help decrease police brutality and raise awareness that it is unacceptable. We need to change our laws, we need to advocate for better legislation, as well as elected officials that support ensuring the safety of everybody, not just certain people that already have protections under the law,” she said. “We want to make sure everybody is protected under the law, and when we call the police, we want them to protect and serve us. We don't want to feel threatened by them, we don't want to feel uncomfortable. We want to feel like they are also there to protect us and protect our men, too, and our women of color.”
Nine months pregnant, Myuana Harris, of Rochester, brought her 2 1/2-year-old son, Marley Parker, to speak out. For Harris, the issue of police brutality is extremely personal — her father was a victim of it, and it left him paralyzed from the neck down, she said.
"It needs to stop. We need to fix the system," Harris said. "We need to fix education. We need to fix the health disparities between blacks and not-blacks. All of this needs to stop. This is just a little tip of the iceberg."
As the minutes ticked past 1 p.m., more and more people gathered at the park. Lining the sidewalk and holding signs, the group chanted as cars drove past. Protesters then took to the streets as hundreds marched to the government center.
Walking down East Center Street, Pastor Jason Bryan-Wagner, of Zumbro Lutheran Church in Rochester, said he was compelled to go to the protest by a demand for justice and equality and a community that comes together.
"It’s powerful to see all different areas of our community come together to call for justice, to express their heartache and our heartbreak about what has happened in our own state. I’m overwhelmed by the power of our young people who are leading this effort," he said.
Stopping at the steps to the government center, speakers of all ages and colors spoke to the crowd.
“I am a black woman, a wife and mother. The sadness and anger I feel right now are far too familiar to me,” said Janelle Malone, of Rochester. “George Floyd, like so many other African Americans, died for no reason.”
“The message this sends to my children and everybody else is that we don’t matter," she said. “Our lives mean nothing. We live in a world that isn’t designed for us.”
Malone spoke of the danger she feels when stopped by police just for the color of her skin and demanded justice for Floyd.
“Being a police officer does not put you above the law,” she said. “We need to come together not just now, but every single time, and hold police accountable.”