“Racism ‘infects’ America.” “Black Lives Matter.” “George Floyd should still be alive.” “I can’t breathe.”
Such were the signs, some wet with rain, on the road toward downtown Port Townsend at midday and at the corner of Golf Course Road and First Street in Port Angeles later that afternoon.
More than 175 people turned out on the North Olympic Peninsula to peacefully protest the killing of black men at the hands of some police officers across the country, the protests being supported by local police.
“I wanted to spend my day off doing something, fighting back,” said Sean Vinson, who helped hold up a large “I can’t breathe” banner on the corner of Sims Way and Haines Place.
Those were among the last words of George Floyd, the African American man who died after police apprehended him in Minneapolis last Monday. Also spoken by Eric Garner, a black New York City resident who died in a confrontation with police July 17, 2014, the phrase has become a rallying point for activists across the country.
Some 125 people gathered, wearing masks and lining both sides of Sims Way near Safeway in Port Townsend, from 11 a.m. until past 1 p.m.
In Port Angeles, about 50 people braved a cold wind at 3 p.m. at the corner of Golf Course Road and First Street to hold signs saying “I can’t breathe” and “BLM.” Other signs evoked Philando Castile, another Minnesota black man who was killed by police in 2016.
Dozens of cars drove by honking their horns in support with at least one driver rolling down his window and holding up a fist in support.
Brianna Kelly-Hedden helped put together the Port Angeles protest because people wanted to go to Seattle to join protests there but couldn’t because of the COVID-19 situation.
“Something has to be said. We have to speak up,” she said.
She said she talked to the Port Angeles Police Department before the event and got its support beforehand.
“The police department supports us. They’re backing us up,” she said.
The scene was similar in Port Townsend as the mostly white group — with a few people of color — stood in the moist chill as passing motorists honked and waved.
“We’re standing peacefully in demonstration,” Vinson proclaimed through a megaphone. He then announced there would be a silent vigil downtown Saturday afternoon.
Social media and word of mouth brought the crowd to the street, Vinson said.
Juli Valentine, who stood with her 19-year-old African American daughter, Beth Valentine, about a block away across Sims Way, added that a group of young people had begun spreading the word Friday afternoon.
Juli, who is white, said she is “sick and tired of the disregard for human lives” that has persisted in this country.
“It matters,” Beth said, “being vocal.”