MUKILTEO — Protest marches and demands for racial justice continued and spread Sunday as hundreds gathered in Granite Falls and Mukilteo to seek equity, better representation and legislation to ban chokeholds by police.
Kamiak High School alumni Alex Callaway and Jordyn Porea organized the Mukilteo demonstration that drew a crowd large enough to fill out the parking lot of the Mukilteo Speedway Taco Bell. It was a response to the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.
Even thousands of miles removed from those tragedies, Callaway and Porea said they experienced racism in their communities, and that’s why they chanted “Black lives matter” and marched along the busy roadway.
Porea, a Kamiak senior, said she grew up as one of the only black children and often heard from her peers that she didn’t “act black.”
“That’s a stereotype,” she said.
Callaway said he was stopped by a police officer while walking.
Josh Binda, who graduated from Kamiak in 2017, said America loves black culture but won’t acknowledge the persistent fear and stigma that black Americans live with — that they’re seen as violent threats and thieves, that they’re scared any time a police officer stops them.
“If we want real change, we need reform, we need legislation,” Binda said, asking for support of a statewide ban on chokeholds by law enforcement. “A badge should not protect you… You take a life, you lose the badge. Period.”
Binda looked over the crowd, populated by hundreds of young people, and said they were the future. But to enact change, they need adults’ help with their votes and voices to call out racism when they hear and see it.
“This is about humanity versus racism,” he said.
With at least Mayor Jennifer Gregerson and Councilmember Riaz Khan as well as several Mukilteo School District teachers in attendance, Porea asked the city and school district to hire more people of color. She said she saw her fellow “young, mixed girls” and knew how hard it was for them, but improving representation would help them.
Before the organizers spoke, Gregerson thanked the protesters and said she signed the Obama Foundation’s Mayor Pledge to address police use of force policies. She praised the Mukilteo police officers for their work.
“But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take a closer look,” she said.
Khan, the city’s first Muslim council member, said he has suffered racism several times. But uniting against racists and bigotry could win out.
“People left their homes, came down here,” he said. “It matters. People left their jobs, came here. It matters.”
Porea also asked people to acknowledge their privilege so that they could help others and dismantle it.
During the march to Taco Bell, protesters held a “die-in” at the speedway’s intersection with 92nd Street Southwest. They laid face-down on the street, blocked off by the Mukilteo Police Department, and sidewalk for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time a now-fired police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck.
Binda, Callaway and Porea chanted some of his dying words through megaphones: “I can’t breathe.” “Mom, I’m scared.”
Several people sobbed with their faces against the concrete.
“Imagine how George Floyd felt,” Porea said.
The first couple of minutes from Daesha Smith, a 19-year-old Granite Falls H.S. grad who helped lead the orginzation of the protest, as she spoke to about 250 people in front of city hall. pic.twitter.com/lSLQfHzpNm— Zac Hereth (@ZacHereth) June 7, 2020
About 25 miles away in the rural Granite Falls, around 200 people gathered earlier at the high school for a similar protest.
Granite Falls residents Daesha Smith, 19, and Jocelyn Evans, 24, and Lake Stevens resident Alpha Yepassis, 19, organized it.
“The overall message that I think we are trying to send is that racism is not going to be tolerated anywhere ever again,” Smith said. “Black people are tired. Muslim people are tired. Mexicans are tired. We’re tired of hearing it. At the end of the day, every single one of us is a human being, and that’s what I want to underline.”
Neighbors in the small town of about 3,800 people supported protesters who marched from the high school, up Hemming Way and south down Granite Avenue to City Hall. Near the high school, a couple drove by in an old green truck with an American flag fluttering in the wind behind. They waved and cheered on protesters.
Near the corner of West Pilchuck Street and North Granite Avenue, a family of four stood on their doorstep watching as protesters walked by shouting “Black Lives Matter!” A young boy, no older than 3, standing on the porch shouted the words back.
Smith, Evans and Yepassis each spoke to the crowd gathered on the steps and in front of City Hall.
“This is not a political issue. This is a human rights issue,” Smith said. “No matter what party you’re in, you should want the best for every race, every color, everywhere.”
Smith and Evans said they were surprised and excited to see so many people in their town joined the protest.
“I cried the entire march because of how many people were here and how many people were showing support,” Evans said. “It’s a small town and everyone knows everyone, but you don’t really know everyone’s intentions. So it was good to see well-intentioned people coming and standing by us.”
Herald writer Zac Hereth contributed to this report.