By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
It’s been 12 days since George Floyd was killed at the hands – knee – of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
But the passage of time hasn’t lowered the voices of Central Oregonians demanding social justice reform, equality under the law, and an end to police brutality.
Nearly 2,000 people gathered in Bend Saturday for a ‘Walk for Justice,’ beginning in Farewell Bend Park on the banks of the Deschutes River, winding through the Old Mill District and Box Factory before heading downtown to the steps of the old county courthouse.
“I’m here because black lives matter,” said Sabrina Sloan of Bend as she watched the throng pass below her through an underpass on the river trail. “Because if we don’t – if I don’t – stand up to this, what good am I?”
She was there with her 20-year-old daughter, Alex Schroeder.
“I’m worried for the future,” she said. “I’m scared. I’m scared even for my kids in the future.”
As the group walked, now familiar full-throated pleas echoed across the banks of the river.
“Black Lives Matter!”
“Say his name: George Floyd!”
“No justice, no peace!”
Online, ahead of the rally, and as it was happening, others voiced dissent.
“All lives matter.”
“My question is, why is this guy everyone’s hero?”
“So can we do high school graduations outside and just call them protests???”
Along the protest route, when the chant turned to “We can’t breathe,” a woman waiting for the group to pass by said through an open truck window “Well then, take off your f—ing masks.”
Saturday marked the third time in the last seven days residents here filled the streets with peaceful rallies.
One week ago, nearly 800 people showed up downtown to protest George Floyd’s death.
On Tuesday, about 1,300 walked from Troy Field to the courthouse.
The police presence Saturday was minimal, just as it was earlier in the week. A couple of patrol cars monitored the situation when the crowd left the Old Mill on to Bond street heading toward the Box Factory. A handful of officers stood on the fringes of the group at the courthouse.
Similar rallies happened in Redmond, Sisters and La Pine. Smaller crowds with the same message.
Downtown Bend businesses feared for the worst heading into the weekend, acting upon rumors violent protestors from outside the area would be among the group. Bend Police even issued a notice they would have increased patrols in the area.
Most took behind-the-scenes precautions like reducing inventory and moving items from front windows.
The plywood, though, just blocked the view to a Central Oregon community joining the nation in a week-long call for action.
Like the previous protests, the rally in Bend Saturday was boisterous but peaceful.
Sprawling, but united.
Energetic, but somber.
Brief rainfall did little to dampen the spirits as the crowd picked up more people along the way.
Jeff Breit of Bend walked some of the route with his 9-year-old daughter, Ada.
“My daughter and I walked the protest because regardless of which community anyone lives in, we have a responsibility to advocate for a fair and just society where human rights are respected,” Breit said. “Now is obviously a time where we are recognizing that a large number of Americans’ rights aren’t being respected. And as a result, now is a time to stand up, point this out and help make changes.”
On the steps of the courthouse, speakers used a megaphone to urge the group to stay strong.
To speak up.
To stay focused on the goal.
“This is freakin’ beautiful,” said Riccardo Waites, founder of the Central Oregon Black Leaders Assembly before addressing a crowd silenced by his story and message of solidarity.
From there, the group was headed to Troy Field where a vigil for George Floyd was set for 5 p.m.
On Sunday, a sit-in was planned in Drake Park.
Next week, perhaps more rallies here and across the country.
More cries for justice.
More hope for real change.