Thus said Zoe Travis, who started a one-person demonstration last Monday along the intersection of San Jose and Beach Road, promising to devote one hour of her time every morning until this Friday to hold up a placard that says “Black Lives Matter.”
Yesterday, she was joined by some people she knew and by many she did not know—with the collective goal of amplifying the voices of people of color—and Travis is inviting the CNMI community to join them and make this cause louder.
“Today we are protesting the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and we are protesting for all the people of color who have been killed by police in the United States. This issue should be close to everybody because nobody should have to fear for their life when they interact with the police or anybody in our country because of the color of their skin,” Travis said.
“America was founded on discrimination, racism, and slavery and those institutions have carried on in our modern institutions. They’ve made it impossible for black people to live their lives fully in this country and it’s an issue that should scare and worry everybody. As a white person who has benefited from those institutions my whole life, it is my responsibility to be out here and to say we are not okay with it,” Travis added.
George Floyd, an African American, was killed last week when a Minneapolis police officer who was arresting him pinned him to the pavement by putting his knee on the handcuffed man’s neck. His plea to the officer, “I can’t breathe,” has become a rallying cry for the many protests that ensued and spread across America. The police officer has been fired, arrested, and charged with murder.
Travis, who is white, said her big issue with racism, specifically with people of color, “is that I have siblings who were adopted from Cambodia. They’re not black but they are people of color that have long-term issues with the police. I don’t want to worry for them. I don’t want to worry for my black friends either,” she said.
Travis pointed out that the month of June is also Pride Month, which is observed by the LGBTQ community. This, she said, makes their protest timely and appropriate. “Black LGBT people out there are much more likely to be killed by the police than any white person. They are so unprotected, vulnerable, and more likely to get killed for as simple as suspected forgery and this is why I will never say all lives matter until black lives matter,” she said.
Yesterday morning’s protest at the San Jose intersection was Leah Tarkong’s first time to join a protest. She said she did it because she wants change. “My sign says ‘injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere’ and even though we are not in the U.S. mainland, we are still American citizens and it is our duty to show our unity and our support for our black brothers and sisters,” she said.
“We are all part of the same planet. We are all human beings and it is not fair [people of color] are being openly murdered. [Despite being] covered by the media, the government and the police are not changing their ways and mentality. We need change and show our solidarity. We have a black community here in the CNMI and, even though [it is] small, we just want to show them they have our support,” she added.
Educator and Mount Carmel School president Dr. Galvin Deleon Guerrero joined the peaceful protest before going to work. “We are running a very busy schedule at school—closing it, planning for graduation, and the opening of the new school year but not too busy to allot an hour for this cause. …I’m standing with African Americans who have suffered centuries of systemic racism and injustice. By no means do I condone any kind of violence or rioting but, by the same token, I don’t condone injustice either,” he said. “So while there is not much we can do thousands of miles away, the least we can do is raise awareness and stand in solidarity for other people of color who have suffered enough already. When you live on an island that is so isolated, it doesn’t mean we should be isolated because, when you consider how interconnected our world is today, it is important not to bury our heads in the sand and ignore what’s going on. As an educator, I teach my students to study their history, study civics, and to learn how to make their own communities better places to live,” he added.
Floyd’s death has caused many riots and violent protests that created havoc in different states in the mainland. Many have been active on social media and many like Travis have resorted to peaceful protests like a moment of silence of people in Washington, D.C. outside the National Museum of African American Culture, a walkathon in Flint, Michigan, and people in Colorado lying face down with their hands behind their backs in front of the Colorado’s Capitol, chanting “I can’t breathe.”
Almay Williams from San Vicente plans to join the protest that Travis will be doing for the rest of the week because she wants to fight for the people who are vulnerable. While holding back tears, she said, “…I have black friends who are dear to me and I don’t know who will be next.”