RAYMOND — With an oxygen tank slung over his shoulder and a protest sign in hand, 64-year-old James A. Phillips walked almost five miles to show his support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Phillips was one of more than 100 Pacific County residents who marched silently together on Friday, June 12 through the cities of Raymond and South Bend. The march was organized in response to a call from Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County, which asked for a statewide day of action in support of Black lives. BLM listed 39 planned protests across Washington.

A five-mile protest

The march began at Willapa Landing Park, at Eighth Street and Franklin Street in Raymond, and ended more than five miles away at the Pacific County Courthouse, 300 Memorial Drive, South Bend. About halfway through the march Phillips grew short of breath. He brought out his electric scooter to ride the rest of the way. When its battery died, he accepted a ride home.

Despite the risk to his health, Phillips said he went to the protest because what happened to George Floyd has been happening in this country for far too long. Floyd, an African American man, was killed by police while being arrested on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Phillips’ eyes filled with tears as he talked about watching the video of Floyd’s death.

“That man didn’t deserve to die,” Phillips said. “And it doesn’t always happen in the open.”

Essential worker Ariel Leigh, 28, said she would have liked to go up for the protests in Seattle, but couldn’t because of her job. She wanted the local community to know those marching were there for positive change.

“For all lives to matter, Black lives have to matter,” Leigh said. “If all lives matter, people who say that should be just as mad.”

Racism still exists, it’s still here and it’s a problem, Leigh said. These past two weeks have made a lot of people pay attention to that, she said. The ones who are still silent are the ones to be worried about.

People of all ages attended the march. Sporting green hair and a floral face mask, 16-year-old Cynthia Carter held a sign that read “Silence is Compliance.” She went to the protest despite her father’s worries about covid-19.

“I’ve seen a lot of racism around here,” Carter said. “The world needs to change, even small towns like this.”

Liz Denny, 37, was with her 2-year-old daughter Marina Medina and 64-year-old mother, Jan Davis. Denny and Davis are both members of Willapa Bay Resistance. Davis has wanted to attend a protest since they began breaking out across the country after the video of Floyd’s death, she said.

Police presence

Officers with the South Bend and Raymond police departments as well as deputies from the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office helped facilitate the protest by stopping traffic when the group needed to cross the highway. Raymond Police Chief Chuck Spoor said the law enforcement presence was meant to keep people safe. While he didn’t want to comment on what happened to Floyd, Spoor said any death in police custody is “a bad situation.”

Washington is a leader in the guardian policing model, Spoor said. All of his officers are trained in things such as implicit bias, and he doesn’t see his officers use force very often.

“We try to get the right people in the job,” Spoor said.

Pacific County Sheriff Robin Souvenir said what happened to Floyd was an extremely sad situation and one that would be talked about in deadly force training with his deputies. He understands the concerns and the controversies related to police brutality, he said. But it is important not to paint all departments with the same brush.

Given the size of the Pacific County community, many of his deputies aren’t just part of law enforcement; they’re teachers, churchgoers, mentors and coaches, he said.

“I really truly appreciate that our community is so small that we as law enforcement can’t treat people badly,” Souvenir said.

Closing remarks

The march was organized through a community effort said one of the coordinators at the protest, who asked to be identified by only his first name, Chris.

Chris was moved by the number of people who came out to the protest. He wasn’t sure what to expect, he said. It is a good start and the motivation to change 400 years of racism is growing, he said.

“People want to act,” Chris said. “It’s time to end complacency.”

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