Black Lives Matter demonstration draws big crowd in Nome
Over 150 Nomeites gathered for a Black Lives Matter march at the parking lot across from City Hall to protest in solidarity with the nationwide movement sparked by the violent death of George Floyd. Floyd, a 46-year-old man, was arrested on Memorial Day for allegedly having forged a check, and died while in custody when a Minneapolis Policeman kneeled on Floyds neck for nearly nine minutes.
The call for systemic change to end police brutality and the unequal treatment of people of color at the hands of police nationwide resonates in Nome. The Nome Police Dept. has found itself in headlines nationwide for a systemic neglect of investigating sexual assaults and violent assaults, mostly suffered by Native women. A coalition of Nome women has brought about change that resulted in the creation of a Public Safety Advisory Committee to give an avenue for complaints against police and also to advise for better community-police relations.
The Black Lives Matter movement was something that many people in Nome could relate to and brought about a big turnout last Wednesday, June 10.
The march gathered in front of City Hall. Zoe Okleasik and Anna Ashenfelter addressed the crowd and went over the march’s route. Every person in the crowd was clad in face coverings, most with signs in hand. Darlene Trigg read the ground rules to stage a peaceful protest and asked all to abide by the rules. After Nancy Mendenhall gave a short blessing, Addie Ahmasuk began the speech part. She said, as a non-black, employed and educated, she acknowledged being privileged. “I carry a lot of privilege, I do not know what it means to be a black person in America, or Alaska. But I do know that when you’re darker, people look at you differently. You trying to fit into a space that is not intended for you.”
She spoke on racism and the systemically embedded treatment of people of color, and quoting a black writer, “The system is built on a long history of injustices. Many people say it’s insane to resist the system, but actually it’s insane not to.”
She said that the concept of Black Lives Matter go beyond just one group. “When we stand up in Nome for Black Lives Matter, we continue to make a safe space and protection for every person harmed by police and hold the system accountable because Black lives matter,” Ahmasuk said.
“Healing of our pain is not up to us or our generation, but how we raise our next generation. We can no longer put our relationships aside. This means the relationship with our homeless community, our relationship with people of opposing beliefs and most importantly the relationship with the land around us. As soon as we feel it’s ok to disrespect our earth, our air, our waters, it’s ok to disrespect an entire group of people. This has to end and it starts with our relationships.”
Then Zee Pratt spoke. She said she grew up in Nome for most of her life. “My mom is Inupiaq, and my dad is black.
I mostly grew up knowing my Native family, but I dealt with racism my entire life. From a young age I was told I be treated differently because of the color of my skin.”
Jennifer Dean Johnson then read a prepared speech titled “Tired.” She spoke on the double standard of how justice and judgment is applied in the country. As an example she said, she was tired that George Floyd’s character was under the microscope while President Trump can openly talk about grabbing women by their private parts, mocking disabled people, disrespecting military service members and inciting violence. “I’m tired of hearing why George Floyd’s character justified his death, while Trump’s character is not a factor in the presidency. Yet, we wonder why we are a nation divided and why we have civil unrest,” she said.
She went on to say she’s tired of having her voice, beliefs and thoughts dismissed and tired of hearing about looters and that those wrongs don’t make the BLM movement right. “I’m the Rosa Parks kind of tired,” she said. “The kind of tired that has me planted in my convictions, immoveable in the name of justice.” She said that as George Floyd couldn’t breathe, “let us address inequality, racism and injustice in our community and in our practices. Let us right wrongs and set new paths. All lives won’t matter until Black Lives Matter. When it does we can all breathe.”
After the speeches, the peaceful demonstrators marched up Bering Street and then on to Greg Kruschek Avenue to the Public Safety Building.
No police presence was seen at any time.
At the Public Safety Building the march concluded with saying the names of people who died at the hands of police officers. While most victims died in the Lower 48, Francine Johnson took to the microphone and reminded those present of the murder of 19-year-old Sonya Ivanoff, killed execution-style by then-NPD officer Matt Owens, in 2003.
Billi Jean Miller said the name of her twin sister Bobbi Mingnuna Miller. She died on Nov. 8 in Palmer, her boyfriend was arrested and charged with strangling her. Days before her death, Billi Miller said, Bobbi sought the help of the Palmer Police Department and was denied. Emotions were raw and tears flowed as the names were said and their tragic stories heard.
The event ended with a minute of remembrance while all knelt and then with the singing of Amazing Grace.
After the event concluded, Zoe Okleasik, 17, one of the organizers told the Nugget that the march began as a Facebook group that organized via Messenger and planned the march for Nome.
Co-organizer Anna Ashenfelter, 30, said she was blown away by the number of people who attended. “To be perfectly honest, I considered if ten people showed up, it would be a complete success,” Ashenfelter said. “So, this is amazing, I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
What are they trying to achieve here in Nome? Zoe Okleasik said Nome has its own issues, with open cases of missing and raped women, who didn’t see the chance that their cases got solved. “Police brutality has not just happened yesterday, it happened for decades. My grandparents were fighting the same thing,” she said. She said that in indigenous cultures, decisions are made with seven generations in mind. “So, I’m not just fighting for me and my generation, I’m also fighting for my grand children, so that my children’s children don’t have to go through this,” Okleasik said.
NPD has reached out to the organizers, but according to Ashenfelter, it didn’t feel appropriate to have NPD’s presence at the event. “They wanted to be included and make a statement, but right now, it’s more a space for the community coming together for this issue,” Anna said.
As for concrete steps for change, Ashenfelter said that she would like to see policies and procedures so that there is follow-up and accountability for the Nome police force. “They haven’t been doing their jobs. It’s been pretty clear, they have been in the New York Times now four or five times now that they haven’t been doing their jobs. It’s time for a change,” Ashenfelter said.
Zoe Okleasik said she feels the change in the air as everybody is opening up their eyes to see what’s happening. “There are protests in every single state and even other countries,” se said. “We’re ready for that change. We don’t want apologies, we want change.”