Hundreds of marchers protesting the police shooting of a Black man in Wisconsin gathered Sunday in downtown Spokane, the most recent in a series of protests this summer targeting police brutality against people of color.
The most recent protests were sparked by the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 23. A video of the incident shows Blake attempting to enter his car when he is shot seven times in the back by a responding officer.
Nicole Ellis, mother of Tyler Rambo, a young Black man who was shot by Coeur d’Alene Police last year, spoke to the crowd about the similarities between the two cases. She was one of two mothers whose sons have been shot by police who spoke at the protest.
Tyler Rambo was shot 14 times by police, resulting in the loss of both his legs. He was arrested and charged with attempted murder.
His mother said Tyler was responding in self-defense to being jumped, and complied with an officer’s orders to put his hands up before being shot with a stun gun. Officers argue he did not comply. Ellis said her son’s gun went off during the scuffle, leading to police shooting him.
“He was lying on the ground, and he barely moves a little bit more, and they light off more bullets,” Ellis said.
The police said following the shooting that Rambo had turned toward officers and fired a single round after the stun gun was used. The shooting followed reports of a fight, when a witness said Rambo also fired the gun near a Fourth of July crowd in Coeur d’Alene.
Rambo last November filed a $9 million tort claim with the city, arguing the officers were poorly trained and supervised. Rambo’s bond was reduced in May to $300,000, and his trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 2.
Ellis said she is frustrated that no body camera footage has been released, and that the officers who shot her son have been cleared.
“In the end, he is the one being blamed for the injustices and violence committed against him,” Ellis said. “What do you do when complying still gets you killed or almost killed? Who do you call when the police officers are the ones instigating violence?”
Among the few hundred people preparing for the march after 2 p.m. was Andre Davis, a 25-year-old Air Force veteran, who has come to every protest in Spokane since June.
“This is my way of contributing to the fight. It’s ridiculous what happened to Jacob Blake,” Davis said. “We see so many different types of people out here, because it’s to make a better America for everybody.”
The shooting, which Blake’s family said has left him paralyzed, has prompted outrage following the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and Breonna Taylor in Louisville in March. Those deaths prompted several weeks of protests across the U.S., including in Spokane, just as city lawmakers were asked to approve a new contract with the union representing uniformed officers. It was voted down, with City Council members expressing concern about its provisions for civilian oversight.
The shooting of Blake has led to violent protests in cities across the country, including Kenosha, where a 17-year-old is facing criminal charges in the shooting death of a pair of protesters and the maiming of a third. A man was shot and killed Saturday night in Portland, the site of prolonged protests following Floyd’s death, after a caravan of vehicles supporting President Donald Trump organized near the city.
But the protest in Spokane on Sunday remained largely peaceful, though there were some incidents involving counterprotesters who were waving flags of support for Trump and law enforcement.
Kurtis Robinson, president of the Spokane NAACP and I Did The Time, acknowledged he, and many others, were tired of protesting, and exhausted by the continual violence against people of color.
He said giving up was far more dangerous.
“They’re still gunning us down at will, they are arresting us at will,” he said. “What has been going on for 400 years is still happening today. We cannot afford not to do this.”
He also urged attendees to stay involved in efforts to achieve racial equity after the protest ended.
Spokane attorney Mason Maxey, grandson of local civil rights champion Carl Maxey, shared a similar sentiment, saying he was frustrated that most city leaders weren’t at the protests, and that many had been protesting for years with little change.
“We shouldn’t have to be here, we should never have to be here, but here we are,” he said.
Mason’s father, Bevan Maxey, was also in attendance.
“Well, I think it’s important for everybody to recognize what’s going on. It’s an important time for our country and society to reboot and to really see what’s going on in the world and how people are being treated,” he said. “As time goes on, people tend to forget and get complacent, so it’s always important to be involved in a peaceful demonstration on issues that matter.”
Angel Tomeo Sam, a Colville tribe member and advocate for the ending of cash bail, said a prayer to protesters in her native language.
After the prayer, she shared the need for unity between communities of color and the importance of supporting Black Lives Matter.
“I don’t think it’s a political thing, it’s about humanity,” Sam said.
The march began around 3 p.m., making a loop from the park to the Spokane County Courthouse and back to Spokane City Hall. When demonstrators reached the courthouse, they were met with armed Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies behind barricades, including Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.
Among those marching were 10 members of the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team. The women said attending together showcases the diverse team’s sisterhood.
“It’s our way of demonstrating we’re here for our teammates,” said Tatiana Reese, a junior.
Her teammate, Kennedy Dickie, a sophomore, said as a team it felt important to attend together.
“We’re going to fight for what we believe in,” said Reese.
“No matter the circumstances,” Dickie added.
March attendee Evan Manning, 27, moved to Spokane earlier this month to pursue a master’s degree at Gonzaga University.
“For me, it’s just kind of getting the feel for the community and understanding people’s pain,” said Manning. “I think it’s a pivotal time in our country’s history.”
His roommate, Kevin Kunz, 32, said as a lifelong Spokane resident he had never really seen face-to-face racism, but after the death of George Floyd he took the time to learn about systemic racism.
“I wasn’t aware of the harsh realities of systemic racism, and when George Floyd happened, I really looked inward and saw how that affected me,” said Kunz, a white man. “I think open communication is important.”
Upon return to City Hall, protesters continued to speak. Spokane City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, the only Black city council member, urged those attending to register and vote in the November election.
The only organized counterprotest was a handful of trucks and cars that drove by protesters while flying flags supporting President Donald Trump and the thin blue line, a reference to support of law enforcement. A few individuals were openly carrying guns and/or wearing Trump campaign apparel, but did not actively engage with protesters for the most part.
Marchers held signs, and some wore shirts with seven bullet holes in them, signifying the number of times Blake was shot.
Philip Garcia made a shirt with seven red marks on the back to wear to Sunday’s protest. A lifelong Spokane resident and member of the Kalispel tribe, Garcia said he marched to make his voice heard and amplify others who are also being silenced.
“You have to stand up against injustice no matter what,” Garcia said. “Any person who is not being represented needs to be represented somehow, some way, by someone – so we choose to do this.”
This article was corrected on August 31 to reflect that City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson was not the only city leader at the march.
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