EVERETT — At least 800 people gathered in Everett Saturday afternoon to protest police brutality. They marched through the streets, raised signs and fists, and chanted.
“This will be a peaceful protest, so keep it loud, but keep it peaceful,” shouted 20-year-old Michael Larson, an Everett High School graduate who helped organize the event and led the crowd from the intersection of Everett Avenue and Broadway.
Just a few Everett police officers on bicycles were posted along the march route. Some marchers asked them to join in. The officers stayed put but didn’t interfere with the protest. One man in the crowd recognized an officer and went up to hug him. They exchanged laughter.
Larson said two high school students, who are white, reached out to him to help lead a protest. He agreed and quickly found others to assist. They spread the message on social media, with the goal of getting at least 200 people to come out. The Everett Police Department contacted the organizers and agreed to barricade some streets.
The goal was to put black voices front and center, Larson said. It was his first time organizing a protest, and he said he plans to keep using his voice to speak out against injustice for as long as he’s alive.
The protest was just one of many taking place around the region and the world this weekend.
Also on Saturday, dozens lined sidewalks in Mill Creek at the intersection of 164th Street Southeast and Bothell-Everett Highway. More protests were planned in the county. People are planning to gather at noon Sunday at the high school in Granite Falls. And at 5 p.m., another group plans a march starting at the Mukilteo Library.
Unrest in the nation was ignited by a video showing a Minneapolis officer killing George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, by kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — despite pleas from Floyd that he couldn’t breathe.
Larson said his first thought upon seeing the video was, “Am I next?”
Saturday’s march ended at the Everett Municipal Building, where the crowd in unison took to a knee. They stayed silent for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
After the time was up, Larson spoke.
“Eight minutes and forty-six seconds,” he said. “For as uncomfortable as it was for us to take that silence, it was nothing compared to what George Floyd went through and the pain he faced before his death.”
Speakers included Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Eric Lucas; Ashley Smith, an educator with the Edmonds School District; Everett Community College President Daria Willis; and the Rev. Paul Stoot of Greater Trinity Church in Everett. Several students also spoke.
And they've taken off marching. They have a couple rally spots planned before they end at outside the Everett Police Department. pic.twitter.com/ZTBPEtsgi6— Zachariah Bryan (@ZachariahTB) June 6, 2020
All the speakers were black. They all told stories of personally experienced racism. One girl said she wanted to awaken up from this nightmare.
“It sucks, man,” another student said of the experiences of black people. “Plainly, it sucks.”
If high school students could tell stories of racism at such a young age, Larson later said, he could only imagine the experiences of older generations.
Willis said her mother went to a segregated school and, despite being valedictorian, was told she shouldn’t bother going to college.
“And guess what, she didn’t,” Willis said.
But Willis did go to college and went on to get a Ph.D. in history from Florida State University. Last year she was appointed the 17th president of EvCC, and the first who is African American.
Willis encouraged people to make their voices heard, both on the streets and at the polls.
“We don’t need politicians, we need leaders who love the people,” she said.
Toward the end of her speech, Smith told everyone to put their phones down. “It’s not a photo opp, it’s not a moment, it’s a movement,” she said. She asked all the students in the crowd who were black to come to the front.
At least 50 young people walked up. They faced the hundreds gathered for the rally. Smith faced the kids.
“The last thing I have to say is,” Smith said, “you matter.”
By 5 p.m., a rain storm swept across Everett, soaking those in attendance. It hailed. Lightning flashed. Thunder cracked.
Many stuck around. Some huddled under umbrellas and awnings. Others let themselves get drenched. Smith commended those who stayed.
“When the sun comes, what comes with that?” she said. “A rainbow.”
Stoot closed with a prayer, offering a message that everyone should be “all hands on deck” to bring about change. And as the crowd marched back to Broadway, a rainbow arced over the city.