June 1, 2020 — Hundreds of people marched in the streets of Ukiah Sunday, in a demonstration demanding justice for George Floyd, the black man who was killed on Memorial Day by a white police officer in front of a crowd of witnesses who filmed the killing. Mostly masked demonstrators rallied in front of the courthouse for hours, then marched to Civic Center and back, chanting “No justice, no peace; enough is enough;” and the names of black people who have been killed by law enforcement.
Tyra Riley, one of the organizers, said that, as a light-skinned black woman, “I have only had to deal with slick comments from people;” but that when her dark-skinned male relatives come to town, “There is always some type of discrimination. People will literally come up to me, asking me if I’m okay, if I’m safe, because I’m walking with black men. And it’s appalling and it’s disgusting, that here in such a beautiful county we’re dealing with racism locally. I just don’t understand.”
Last week’s health order re-legalized religious services, haircuts, and political protests.
Sunday’s demonstration in Ukiah was entirely peaceful, though one man roared around the block several times on a motorcycle waving a thin blue line flag, and a woman in a green SUV seemed to feel it was extremely urgent to make a right turn onto Perkins — which she did, coming pretty close to several demonstrators who were standing in the street. A few people hung back along the edges of the crowd, though social distancing was not the order of the day. But Davina Millay Gomez, another one of the organizers, thought it was important to be there in person. “Because otherwise we’d be at home, just feeling everything, rather than doing something.” Gomez, who grew up on the Coyote Valley Reservation and graduated from Willits High School, led a prayer at the beginning of the demonstration. “I was just trying to pray for peace here, because in a lot of other places in America, not everyone has that collectiveness,” she said. “And it’s really important for us to stay here together. And stand here together. Rather than have our own agenda. Because when the police, they’re supposed to be a force. And a lot of them seem to have their own agendas. So I think it’s really important for us to remember and remind ourselves what we’re here for.”
Mourning is a kind of remembrance. Fifty-three-year-old Darren Jackson is an African American man who stood among the masked demonstrators with a black shroud draped over his head and a Pride flag across his shoulders. “I feel that we’re in mourning here,” he said. “The country, the nation, is in mourning. We’re seriously hurt. And we need healing. And I’m wearing my Pride flag draped over my shoulders because I feel my pride has been attacked by this brutal, brutal killing of a black man, as I am a black man, myself. The violence and the brutality and the hatred that I have experienced. I mean, luckily it hasn’t killed me, as it did George Floyd, but we need to be awakening to people’s diversities. And just find some respect. Find some respect in our hearts and forgiveness.”
Before marching to Civic Center, the entire crowd took a knee on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse for nine minutes, the length of time now former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck. Floyd’s was one of the names of murdered black people nineteen-year-old organizer Essence Rokey included in a chant on the lawn in front of the city government building. “Breonna Taylor, she was in her home and the police busted through the door and shot her,” she recalled. “We have Ahmaud. He was on a run, and these two white people tracked him down and shot him. Those are a few of the names that we were chanting.” In reference to the biker with the thin blue line flag, she said, “That was really scary, because he kept antagonizing people and coming by, multiple times, with his flag and shouting at people...but we did a really good job of keeping everybody kind of like, this is a peaceful protest. We’re here to spread peace. We know that he’s antagonizing us. That’s what he wants. Us to riot, you know? So we could look like the bad guys. But no. We’re going to do it peacefully, for sure.”
There was very little visible police presence at Sunday’s demonstration. A California Highway Patrol Vehicle decorated with messages of congratulations for the graduating class of 2020 drove by the courthouse twice, and a police car passed once, both headed south.
Ten-year-old Kenyon stood at the top of the courthouse staircase, where someone had used chalk to write the names of black people who have been killed by police, one on each step.
He’s the same age as Clifford Glover, another black boy who was shot in New York in 1973. He arrived at the demonstration in a car bearing the message, “My name is Kenyon and I have the right to breathe.”
As Gomez said, “If you’re not here, then you’re somewhere else, and the whole world is watching.”