FARMINGTON – “I can’t breathe,” yelled a crowd of more than 400 people in Farmington on Monday.
The Justice for George Floyd protest brought out hundreds of people along Main Street in front of the Animas Valley Mall to advocate for people of color and protest police violence after the officer-involved death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis.
George Floyd, 46, died May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, knelt on his neck for several minutes while he was handcuffed. Floyd, who did not appear to be resisting arrest, was pronounced dead at a hospital. Chauvin was fired, along with other officers involved in the incident, and he was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter May 29. Protests since the incident have spread throughout the country, including a gathering in Durango on Saturday.
Monday’s protest was announced on Facebook by the San Juan College Young Democratic Socialists of America but organized by a group of women of color who did not want their names shared, according to the event description.
An organizer, who spoke to The Durango Herald during the protest but asked that her name not be published, said, “I am an African American woman. This is life or death for me.”
She said there was a smaller protest Saturday – about 10 people – but she partnered with local organizations to spread the word about Monday’s protest.
“I was nervous, but I have faith and trust in my community,” she said.
Clarrissa Ribera, who has lived in Farmington for the past 10 years, said some residents are proud of their racism.
“That’s why we’re out here,” Ribera said. “It’s scary to know the people around you are secretly racist.”
Most protesters wore masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Of the 12 people interviewed during the event, protesters said they came out to protest systemic racism and police brutality, to remember those killed in police custody and to demand justice for Floyd.
Alyanna Ayala, who attended with friends, wanted justice for Floyd and every person who has been killed.
“All lives don’t matter until black lives matter,” she said.
Law enforcement officers nationwide have condemned the death of Floyd and the officer’s use of force.
“If we as law enforcement leaders cannot plainly condemn this kind of event, we are failing our profession, our officers and our communities,” Farmington Police Chief Steven Hebbe said on Facebook.
The protest Monday was also attended by San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari, along with city and state officers. One organizer said the officers showed they valued their community by standing with the protesters.
On Monday afternoon, the Farmington Police Department said it was aware of a planned peaceful protest and added in a statement, “We are here to assist citizens who are exercising their First Amendment rights.”
A 2019 study found black men have a one in 1,000 chance of being killed by police. Black Americans are also twice as likely to be shot and killed by police as white Americans, according to a Washington Post database of police-involved shootings.
One study found 63% of black Americans worried about police using deadly force on them or a family member, compared with 21% of white Americans who said they feared the use of police force. The same study found 78% of black Americans saw the deaths of African Americans during encounters with the police as a broader problem.
One protester, who wanted to be known only as Sam, said, “There are too many people dying from systemic racism. We’re tired of it.”
Throughout the protest, organizers encouraged people not to be antagonized by people driving by or a small crowd of people who had gathered to watch the protest in a parking lot. Another protest is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday, according to organizers.
Toward the end of the more than hourlong protest, protesters knelt in silence for eight minutes – the amount of time the officer is said to have knelt on Floyd’s neck.
They rose to the call of, “Say his name.”
The crowd answered, “George Floyd.”