“Same problem, different day,” Tracy Jones told a crowd of about 70 people gathered in Buckley Park on Wednesday evening to remember Daunte Wright, a Black man who was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer Monday.
Southwest Movement 4 Black Lives organized the gathering, “Vigil Against Police Terror,” the first in-person gathering for the group since November. The group began weekly rallies last year after the death of George Floyd in May.
Floyd died while in custody of the Minneapolis Police Department after Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. Chauvin is on trial for second-degree murder and lesser offenses in connection with Floyd’s death.
“Black men are dying. It’s a state of emergency. That’s what this is. Black women and Black children are dying,” Jones told the crowd.
She told the group about a conversation she had with a Black man who recently moved to Durango and has decided to strictly adhere to traffic laws and to refrain from many normal activities, such as riding public transit or walking down Main Avenue “wearing a beanie and sweat pants” because he’s worried about a hostile or racist incident.
“How many white people worry about taking the bus or what they’re wearing?” Jones said.
Harrison Wendt, an organizer of Southwest Movement 4 Black Lives, said public events like the vigil are important to keep a wider public focus on the issue of racial justice.
He credits the Black Lives Matter movement and its public events with putting pressure on municipalities to reform police departments and increase funding for social workers, mental health counselors and other professionals who are better trained to deal with people in crisis situations.
Wendt said Kim Potter, the Brooklyn Police Department officer who said she mistakenly fired her handgun rather than her Taser in the killing of Wright, was charged with manslaughter within 48 hours of Wright’s death.
“I don’t think that would have happened before Black Lives Matter,” he said. “It shows to me there is power in people gathering and bringing attention to racial injustice.”
Melissa May of Durango agreed public events like Wednesday’s vigil help educate the wider community and inspire people fighting racism.
May, a member of La Plata SURJ (SURJ stands for Showing Up for Racial Justice), said the group seeks to support and assist Southwest Movement 4 Black Lives to fight racism in the region.
While La Plata SURJ has not had public events since November, May said the group has been meeting online, and Zoom meetings have offered group members the opportunity to learn more about each other and to further educate themselves about ways to combat racial injustice.
Before the rally ended, Jones urged people to speak up within their families and in their workplaces when they see incidents of racism.
“It may be uncomfortable. It may be hard, but it’s the only way we are going to change things,” she said.