PENDLETON More than a hundred residents of Eastern Oregon and Southeast Washington are planning to march peacefully through the streets of Pendleton in a protest against police brutality and racial injustice on Saturday, Aug. 29.
The protest will occur more than three months after police officers killed George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, during an arrest for allegedly using a counterfeit bill in Minneapolis in May. The killing of Floyd sparked protests across the country that are ongoing and were escalated once again this week in response to police shooting Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, seven times in the back in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 23.
Following smaller protests in the area throughout the summer, organizers for the Aug. 29 protest wanted to coordinate a regional event to amplify their message and demonstrate the number of people in the region united behind these causes.
I feel like we havent really had an event for this social movement that has drawn a large enough crowd to show people that this is something we care about in our communities, said Briana Spencer, a Black, Puerto Rican woman whos also a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and a lead organizer for the event.
Spencer has worked alongside Nolan Bylenga, a Black Pendleton resident running as a Democrat for Oregons House District 58, and John Landreth, a white Boardman resident who grew up in the area. With the help of other community members and regional organizations, theyve promoted the event on social media for over a month and are estimating attendance between 150 and 250 people from Umatilla County, Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities area in Washington.
The event is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Roy Raley Park on Southwest Court Avenue, and will include a march through the city and planned community speakers. Census and voter registration booths will also be at the event, along with some kid-friendly activities and more.
Organizers are encouraging all attendees to wear face coverings, abide by social distancing guidelines and be mindful of the risks of COVID-19 during the protest. For those that feel uncomfortable to attend in person or are physically unable to march with the group, a car march has been organized to take place concurrently with the walking march.
The scheduled speakers are a diverse group of Black, Indigenous, people of color from the region who are actively running for office and or organizing and will include: Carina Miller, Eugene Vi, Cia Cortinas Rood, Max Jean Maddern, Amber Rodriguez and Bylenga.
Organizers said they selected these speakers to provide a diversity of perspectives to share at a platform that arent regularly given within the region.
There may be people that have diversity in what theyd like to see policy-wise, but what brings us all together is that we can come to an agreement that racism needs to end and that we need to have justice in a system that claims to be a justice system, Bylenga said.
The event will, at least in part, decry police brutality and racially unjust enforcement by police, but organizers have also held weekly meetings with the Pendleton Police Department to make safety plans for the march.
You can still work with police in regards to safety of an event and still be against issues like police brutality and racial injustice, Spencer said.
But local police will also be monitoring a counter-protest expected to include armed participants and slated to occur simultaneously in opposition of the Black Lives Matter protest.
Weve got a plan in place so were not going to be in a situation where were going to be pushing crowds and standing between protest group A and protest group B, said Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts. Were going to expect adults to act like adults, and those who choose not to obviously well have to make a decision about intervention.
In weeks leading up to the protest, HollyJo Beers, the leader of the Umatilla County Three Percenters and a candidate for Umatilla County commissioner, promoted attendance at the counter-protest through her Facebook page.
Organizers said they spoke with Beers in an attempt to dispel misunderstandings or rumors about the protest, though armed opposition is still expected on Aug. 29.
Beers didnt respond to requests for comment from the East Oregonian and her profile no longer appears on Facebook.
While acknowledging residents have legitimate reasons for their fear about Black Lives Matter protests, the organizers are also unclear why theyre being counter-protested when theyve worked directly with police to focus on safety and nonviolence.
People are so fear driven in our community that theyre willing to turn against their own community members in a small town like Pendleton and show up armed with AR-15s, Bylenga said.
Roberts said hes kept open communication with organizers on both sides of the protests and his department is focused on maintaining safety for all who attend on Aug. 29.
To a certain degree theres some animosity there, Roberts said of the two groups. But our role and our job is to keep everybody safe and allow them to come and exercise their constitutional rights. And thats exactly what were going to do.
As news of the protest has spread through the community, and rumors about its intentions and prospective participants along with it, Spencer said the protest has become about sending an additional message on Aug. 29.
The message that we really want to have out to the community is that they dont have to be afraid that this is coming to their town, Spencer said. That our focus has always been to be peaceful, and its being organized by local people. None of us want to see our communities be torn down.
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