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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Group marches through downtown Spokane as trial nears for officer charged in George Floyd’s killing

UPDATED: Sun., March 7, 2021

People begin to gather near chalk art of George Floyd by Harpman Hatter for a Saturday protest marking the start of the trial for Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer charged in Floyd’s killing.  (Maggie Quinlan)
People begin to gather near chalk art of George Floyd by Harpman Hatter for a Saturday protest marking the start of the trial for Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer charged in Floyd’s killing. (Maggie Quinlan)

A few dozen protesters gathered at the U.S. Pavilion at Riverfront Park on Saturday to mark the beginning of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with murder after kneeling on George Floyd’s neck in Minneapolis last May.

From there, the group organized by the Human Rights Activist Coterie of Spokane began a relaxed march through Spokane’s sun-drenched downtown to the Black Lives Matter mural on Main Avenue, each letter painted by a different local artist.

Sarah Torres, the artist behind the letter “L,” admired a colorful chalk rendition of Floyd made by Rick Bocook, aka Harpman Hatter, before the first speakers began.

“Art is a way to create accessibility to these issues for everyone,” Torres said. “It’s a way to document moments in time in a way that is an act of resistance itself. Art is a way to not let any moment fade out.”

She said events like Saturday’s keep people inspired to challenge dominant beliefs about race and policing.

More than 1,000 miles east of Spokane, the city of Minneapolis prepared for potential unrest over the trial, NBC reported. Jury selection begins Monday.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called Chauvin’s trial “probably the most significant trial that our city has ever experienced,” NBC reported.

Although Saturday’s protest in Spokane was many times smaller than the ones in spring and summer spurred by Floyd’s killing that attracted thousands of marchers, Torres doesn’t believe the movement has died down in Spokane, but that over the course of the pandemic, many people have moved to do their part from home.

Native American musicians started the event with a Nimiipuu song for casualties of war. Andrea “Drea Rose” Gallardo, who said police officers used a knee-to-neck maneuver on her during the May 31 Spokane protest, walked through the crowd with a bundle of sage smoking from inside an abalone shell.

Angel Tomeo Sam, who distributes bail for the Spokane branch of the national nonprofit The Bail Project, spoke first, acknowledging that “Spokane” is an Indigenous word and the city exists on land that Indigenous people lived on for centuries. She said Indigenous and Black issues are tied together.

“That’s why we’re here,” Sam said. “Because of the devastating consequences of colonialism.”

Sam then listed the names of people killed by Spokane police.

Sam and the next speaker, local activist and city council candidate Lacrecia “Lu” Hill, said they support defunding police. Sam said people sometimes balk at the expression, but to her, defunding police would also mean “investing in the divested.”

Hill said Americans need to embrace a completely new system, where police are not the “solution to every social issue.”

“Our first approach to crisis is sending in an armed human,” Hill said.

Hill also pointed to the city council’s approval of the new Spokane Police Guild contract, saying the contract did not allow for enough independent oversight of the Spokane Police Department.

Hill said that though Chauvin’s trial sparked this march, the outcome would not matter until police are not protected by qualified immunity, a legal principle that protects government employees from liability in some civil lawsuits.

After the marching group made a stop at the Rotary Fountain in Riverfront Park, Gallardo took the microphone and pointed to statistics recently released by the Spokane Police Department that showed Black and Native American people are overrepresented in reports of crime compared to their share of the population. The study also found Black and Native American people were more likely to experience uses of force.

The same report found that police did not arrest more Black or Native American people than the researchers would expect, based on the number of Black and Indigenous people named in crime reports.

Dave Bilsland, a Navy veteran with long white hair waving a Black Lives Matter flag, said he wished more people from prior protests would come out.

“I am here because I’ve been fighting this damn fight for nearly 60 years,” Bilsland said. “And if we don’t listen to our young people, we’re dead. That’s coming from a former young person.”

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