Before demonstrators took to the streets Sunday afternoon, Cecelia Towner of Black Lives Matter Vancouver asked them to carry the nation’s black and brown citizens, and Vancouver’s 10,000 black residents, in their hearts.
The streets need to be safer for members of those communities, she said.
That message was brought from Marshall Park into downtown Vancouver as nearly 150 people participated in a unity march. The march’s organizer, Democratic legislative candidate Kaitlyn Beck, said the event was created to bring people together at a time when the nation is facing “a lot of negativity and divisiveness.”
“We’re here to have a legitimate conversation around creating legitimate reforms,” Beck said. That includes requiring officers to wear body cameras with the aim of reducing police brutality, she added.
In addition to Black Lives Matter, the crowd included members of Don’t Shoot Portland; advocates for Initiative 735, a movement to remove secret donors from the political process; supporters of Standing Rock, a Sioux Tribe fighting against the Dakota Access oil pipeline; and the Portland Raging Grannies, a social justice and environmental protection group.
As the crowd marched south from the park’s pavilion, they chanted for peace, justice and togetherness.
“Two, four, six, eight, using love to conquer hate,” they said. They also shouted the names of black men and boys who were shot and killed recently by police officers in other parts of the country.
They trekked to the downtown Vancouver library, several blocks shy of a political rally in support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, before turning back.
Nicole Johnson of Portland said she felt it was important to participate.
“As a young, black woman in today’s society, my voice needs to and has to be heard,” the 25-year-old said. “Our society can’t keep killing black people and not be held accountable.”
Members of the Vancouver Police Department monitored the march, helping control traffic as participants crossed busy roads.
As the group walked back to Marshall Park, police stopped traffic at the intersection of Fort Vancouver Way and Mill Plain Boulevard. A woman crossing Fort Vancouver Way gave a nearby officer the peace sign. She and a friend shouted at him,”thank you!”
The officer smiled and replied, “you’re welcome.”
Upon returning to the park, Towner took the microphone again.
She said that the Black Lives Matter movement is not saying that white people aren’t valued, but that everyone has the right to feel as safe and valued as white people do. Referencing recent police shootings of black people, she said, “black children are children. They don’t look older than other children. And black men don’t look more dangerous.”
“In helping black people, we help all people,” Towner added. “The word ‘racism’ is not calling people racist. We really need to stop being afraid of the conversation.”