This weekend, protesters gathered throughout the Roaring Fork Valley to call attention to systematic racism and police violence in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died on Memorial Day after police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pinned him to the ground and kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
In Aspen on Saturday, hundreds of local protesters marched through the rainy streets in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The protest was organized by local Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dancer, Jenelle Figgins, along with Sajari Simmons from the newly formed anti-racism group, “Roaring Fork Show Up.”
“Thank you guys for coming out and I also want to challenge your comfort,” Figgins said. “I want to say, ‘What took you so long to realize this was happening, what took you so long to wake up?’”
Protesters wore masks and held signs that read, “Aspen isn’t untouched, end systemic racism now,” and chanted, “White silence is violence.”
Figgins emphasized the need to do more than protest police violence. “It’s not just an isolated incident,” Figgins said. “George Floyd is the catalyst, so why is everyone making such a ruckus about one man? It’s the entire system that needs to be thrown out.”
“I came here to join my community in amplifying the voices of black people around the world, oppressed people around the world and people who are just sick and tired of being sick and tired. We’ve been protesting peacefully for centuries,” said local resident Nikita Daniely, who joined the protest Saturday.
“This place is a bubble of white privilege. Just because that is the dominant representation doesn’t mean that we don’t care as a community about those other people, so it’s important for communities that are not affected to still stand tall,” she said.
The day ended with demonstrators lying face down in Wagner Park for nearly nine minutes while repeating, “I can’t breathe” -- some of the last words Floyd said before he died. These were also the last words of several other black men who have died at the hands of police, including Eric Garner in 2014 who said, “I can’t breathe,” eleven times, as New York police officer Daniel Pantaleo held him in a chokehold until he died.
Among the crowd were parents and students, local police officers and volunteer firefighters.
“I’m here today to learn and to listen,” said Bill Linn, Aspen’s assistant police chief. “Recently things have changed in all of our worlds and I’m seeing things a little differently than I used to and so I’m here as a student more than anything.”
In downtown Carbondale, a protest Saturday night drew about 150 masked protesters. The event began with 20 minutes of silence as protesters kneeled in a circle.
April Crow Spaulding is one of the event organizers, and quietly knelt with a sign that read, “BECAUSE I’M A MOTHER” during the 20 minutes of silence.
“That is my own personal part of my heart that brought me out here,” she said. “I’m appalled by what our country is doing right now; this is not our America, this is not my America, this is not how it should be, and the fact that there’s systematic racism still alive, it’s just unbelievable to me, so I am here as a mother to say it needs to stop and we need just to love each other and share love.”
The group marched for over an hour around town; many held signs demanding criminal justice reform. Other signs listed the names of African Americans who have been killed by police over the years. The crowd chanted “I can’t breathe” and “No Justice, No Peace” as they walked. Cars drove by honking their horns and fist-pumping the marchers, or holding signs out their windows in solidarity with the protesters.
“It doesn’t matter how many people turned out,” said event organizer Drea Marsh of the number who gathered and marched. “For me, that people showed up is important.”