ASHLAND, Ore. — It started just before 11 am Sunday morning in Lithia Park. Protesters slowly trickled in, bearing signs and wearing masks. Soon the park was filled with people and calls for justice.
For nine minutes, people laid on the ground in the park in Ashland chanting, "I can't breathe." In a way, recreating the events that led to the protest.
On May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, George Floyd died in police custody. Floyd can be heard saying "I can't breathe" on a bystander's video of the event as police officer Devin Chaucin held Floyd to the ground with his knee near his neck.
The aftermath of the video being released sent a wave of protests throughout the nation, some of them escalating to rioting, looting and destruction of buildings.
The organizer of one of the protests in Ashland on Sunday emphasized it was a peaceful protest, but it was on where they wanted to send a message. After spending about 30 minutes in Lithia Park, protesters marched to the Lithia Park Bandshell. Marching with them, Ashland Police Department Chief Tighe O'Meara.
"As a member of the community and as the leader of the Ashland police department, I think it's important to be apart of this hopefully healing, progressing, moving forward, realizing that there are systemic problems not only in our culture but in American law enforcement," Chief O'Meara said. "I want to demonstrate as, again, police chief and a member of the community, someone who lives here, that I, and we [police officers], want to work with the community to address these problems."
At the bandshell, some protestors took the time to speak encouraging people that just marching and protesting is not enough.
"We must use our white privilege to stand in solidarity with the people that are threatened. Who are afraid for their lives," one speaker said. "This is good. It is not enough."
From there, protesters marched back towards the park and then onto Main Street in downtown Ashland. Ashland Police cars blocked the streets to allow the protesters to march and keep cars from driving into crowds.
Eventually, the group returned to the Ashland Plaza where a second group was. They merged and continued to march. They went against the typical flow of traffic on Lithia Way as Ashland Police Officers continued to redirect most cars.
Protests join forces. Marching through downtown Ashland pic.twitter.com/sI2iqMhkm1
— Josh Shelton (@JoshSheltonLive) May 31, 2020
When they returned, a group brought in a loudspeaker and began leading chants and sharing messages of how to fight injustice.
"We're here today to acknowledge the atrocities that are happening in communities all over this nation. That are happening for hundreds of years here and we are saying no more. No more!" one of the speakers said.
Even joining in was a young Ashland girl named Tatem. She didn't speak much, but the words she did say resonated through the crowd.
"I would like to thank you all for being here because black lives do matter and they matter to me and they matter to everyone in this community," Tatem said, followed by cheers from the crowd and a warm embrace after.
Most of the day was filled with chanting and marching. But it ended with a moment of silence.
An eight-minute and 46 second moment of silence. The same amount of time the Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on George Floyd's neck.