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Nonviolent demonstration echoes protests across country

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Black lives matter protest

Protesters gather at the intersection of 11th Street and Corral Hollow Road on Sunday afternoon in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25.

A Sunday afternoon protest sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis was loud and passionate, and ended as a nonviolent demand for justice that has echoed across the United States and beyond.

Hundreds of people, mostly young, gathered at the intersection of 11th Street and Corral Hollow Road, chanting and carrying signs, with “Black Lives Matter” the dominant theme. Passersby responded with honking horns and shouts of support. Toward the end, a large group broke away to march along 11th Street to Plasencia Fields, where Haifa Ahmed of Tracy urged the crowd to commit to continued action in response to police brutality.

“I think not only my message but everyone’s message is we want to live in America. That’s a simple request, to be able to go to a park and not fear for your life, to be able to go for a drive and not fear for your life, go for a jog and not fear for your life,” she said. “And for justice, not just to prosecute the cops but actually legislation that prevents this from happening again. That’s what we want. That’s what we need, actually.”

Over the previous week, protests had erupted across the U.S. in response to the death of George Floyd, who died at the hands of Minneapolis police May 25. Police had responded to a report that Floyd had passed a counterfeit bill at a neighborhood store.

A bystander video of the police response has circulated around the world. It shows Officer Derek Chauvin pinning Floyd — who had been cuffed but resisted going into the police car — to the ground, with Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes, including nearly 4 minutes after Floyd lost consciousness.

Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, and three other officers at the scene were fired.

Manual Zapata of Tracy, one of the organizers of Sunday’s demonstration, said he knew that Tracy had a strong core of young people who were outraged by the incident and would gather for nonviolent protests.

“We also know that people actually care about the issues and specifically how flagrantly wrong this one was,” Zapata said. “We even saw police officers across the country speaking up and some of them joining protests, so we knew that we had a lot of energy here in Tracy, and wanted to make sure that we could stand in solidarity, just against the negativity in the air, and then the constant stories of police brutality in the media. We just had to do something for our community to show our strength here.”

He added that organizers wanted to see young people turn out in big numbers.

“Our generation, specifically the younger generation, the Gen Z folks, they’re really tired of the system that maybe their parents and grandparents tried to change and couldn’t,” he said. “This is why I think people are so motivated, because we have such social media that we can spread these kinds of videos and injustices.

“Not everything was filmed before, so now we can see that in real time and organize each other, and actually give us something to do now to show our voice and say, this is wrong, and even let the cops know in our community that we’re here.”

Zapata added that organizers were mindful of other protests that had resulted in vandalism, looting and assaults, but didn’t expect Tracy’s protesters to get out of control.

“We’re going to rise above all of the naysayers that are going to say we’re going to be violent, we’re going to loot. I know a couple of the stores here took action because they thought things were going to go wrong, but ultimately we proved them wrong and showed our community strength,” he said.

Tracy police were there for the entire protest, and Chief Sekou Millington stood nearby along with other city officials. Millington said organizers contacted the police department in advance of the demonstration.

“Easily, with this number of people, if things went sideways, we would have been outnumbered and overwhelmed, but we didn’t expect that,” Millington said. “The organizers were very polite and very professional and wanted to make sure we were involved.”

Millington added that incidents such as Floyd’s death required his department to take a closer look at its own use-of-force policies to make sure the same type of thing wouldn’t happen here.

“After I saw that, and I was so thoroughly disturbed I had a meeting with my entire command staff,” he said, “and the feedback that I got — with regard to policies that would not allow that here in Tracy, the sentiments from our command staff about how it disgusted them — they are confident our officers wouldn’t engage in that kind of (action).

“I feel very confident, but I know that our work isn’t done. It’s is not over. We have to continue to push proper, contemporary police use-of-force training, reality-based training, all of which I’ve been working on. We have a plan in place to continue to be a good example of a police department here in the United States.”

The weekend of protests came just after Tracy Police Department had an officer-involved shooting that put a man in the hospital in critical condition. In this case, Tracy police had responded to a possible domestic violence call, and an officer shot a knife-wielding man.

“With regard to ours, the facts are that officers responded to assist someone in need,” Millington said, noting that it was a boyfriend-girlfriend dispute where the woman had called the police.

“This is a legitimate call for service, and the suspect posed a threat to the officer. It’s hard to sidestep that. It’s a reality of policing. My hope and intention is that it was done in accordance with our policy, with our tactics, and I believe at this point I can say that.”

He added that officers were also responsible for de-escalating a situation when they used force.

“I would go so far to say that in our officer-involved shooting, our officer immediately rendered aid and likely saved the life of that young man,” he said. “Immediately they put multiple QuikClots on him and used a tourniquet, immediately de-escalating. I can’t ask for much more than that.”

Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com or 830-4227.

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