No justice, no peace

The murder of an unarmed black man by a white police officer sparks protests across the country, including some in the McHenry area by MCHS students

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Wyatt Siebert

Donning masks, MCHS students protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis cop during a Black Lives Matter protest at Veterans Memorial Park in McHenry. Floyd's death has sparked several protests in McHenry County, all of them peaceful.

Stacy Correra, Copy Editor

A McHenry teenager lays a blank poster board on their table, thinking of the right words to say in a situation where there are no words that can express how they feel. Today, they make a picket sign to go protest police brutality and use their white privilege to amplify the words “Black lives matter” into the air for all to hear. They think long and hard about those black citizens killed at the hands of white police officers—including George Floyd from Minneapolis, one of the most recent casualties—and finally put the marker on the board and write, largely and plainly, “They Couldn’t Breathe.”

On May 25, Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed African American man, was murdered by a white police officer who kneeled on his neck until he suffocated in Minneapolis. This, combined with many other  black people murdered by police officers, sparked a rage in the city that spread across the country.

The Black Lives Matter movement was founded on July 13, 2013, by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi after the shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old African American teenager from Miami Gardens, Florida, Trayvon Martin. Since then, the campaign since has become a global organization in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. Their mission is to, according to their website, eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on black communities by the state and vigilantes.

The movement has gained a multitude of followers of all races to support black excellence and equality, including many in McHenry County—and some from MCHS.

“The Black Lives Matter movement is important because black lives are important,” said Marie Purich, who organized the peaceful protest at Veterans Memorial Park in McHenry on June 1 with her sister Lillian. “We need people to recognize the injustices against the black communities, especially by the police.”

“This monumental foundation has been extremely pivotal in the liberation of black lives and injustices,” explains Riley Doane. “This group is constantly urging the incarceration of police officers who have abused their power towards people of color and other non-black acts of racial aggression, while simultaneously working to free wrongfully committed people of color.”

“They are also used as a hub of resources that can be used to either further educate oneself on the topics of racial oppression,” Doane adds, “or to help amplify other organizations that target more specific causes under the umbrella of black liberation.”

The first protest in Minneapolis started peacefully until police began to use tactics to break up the crowd, including methods of deploying the National Guard, firing rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray. A crowd can turn violent by just a few people counteracting the force used against them, which activates an us-versus-them mentality in both parties.

“I agree with the riots,” stated Purich. “Riots are the language of the unheard. I also agree with peaceful protests but, as we see, both are being attacked currently by the police. So, it does not really matter the type of protest, what matters is the message, and how the police are responding to this. That is what we need to pay attention to.”

However, although many see a deeper meaning behind the protests, others feel that the destruction may be doing more harm than good.

“Personally, I do not agree with the riots that are occurring throughout the country, however, not everything is how it appears to be,” says Savannah Lyon, who has attended three local peaceful protests with plans on attending more, including one in Chicago. 

“There are two groups out in the streets right now: peaceful protesters and rioters — people need to acknowledge the difference between the two. What sets these two groups apart are their intentions … Rioters take advantage, protesters use the advantages they have been given to try to bring awareness to a battle we’ve been fighting for centuries.”

Each protest is different, but the ones that Lyon participated in were fairly similar. Peaceful protests may include speeches, marches, signs, wearing black, candlelight vigils, and lying down on the ground with their hands behind their backs. The protesters may also chant phrases such as, “Say his name, George Floyd,” “I can’t breathe,” “No justice, no peace,” or “Black lives matter.” Also to keep the peace, organizers should state that they have expectations of peace and discourage violence or profanity.

“McHenry County has seen three consecutive days of peaceful protest,” informed Luis Aguilar. “Huntley, Woodstock, and McHenry were the locations I attended on different days. After those events, I saw an explosion of appreciation in our execution of the peaceful protests. We’ve laid the path of how change happens and it begins with our voices being heard.”

A fourth protest started at Veterans Acres in Crystal Lake and ended at the municipal building, where protesters laid face down on the parking lot for nine minutes in honor of Floyd. These protests have been impactful events for everyone involved. Fighting the battle of injustice against minorities does not end with black Americans, they say, but it is a important place to start.

Something that stuck with me from the protests is the overwhelming sense of community and the common desire for justice and change. Something that needs to be carried out to completion,” said Doane. “While I absolutely do not want destruction of property and small businesses I think it’s imperative that we understand why these things started and what is happening right now.”

During these violent times, social media has given rise to controversial statements, such ACAB (“all cops are b- – – – – – – -“). Others have countered this controversial message with statements such as “Blue Lives Matter,” meaning police officer lives, and the saying that “not all cops are bad.” 

In pictures taken during the peaceful protest at Veterans Memorial Park in McHenry on June 1, 2020, local police officers are shown kneeling among the protesters with respect for George Floyd during a moment of silence. Although there are good cops in hindsight, in the minds of people for the ACAB movement, they believe that they are only truly good cops if they do not protect the credibility of the bad ones. 

“It all comes down to holding the police system accountable for its actions and responses,” Lyon states. “I support those that support the movement, which I know for a fact includes some of our law enforcement [in McHenry].”

“Know that the McHenry and Woodstock police departments have made it abundantly clear that they fully support the movement and are there to protect you and do their jobs. Being present at both protests I can attest to this. Every police officer knelt with us, cheered us on, and expressed their disdain for systemic oppression,” Doane explained. “Until good cops hold bad cops accountable, there are no good cops.”

Saying “All Lives Matter” as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement has rubbed these protesters the wrong way.

 “I completely agree that all lives matter. However, right now, there is a 911 call for our black brothers and sisters and no one is answering. Until they are back in the house with us then we can all matter, together,” said Aguilar.

People are finding ways to protest without marching in public demonstrations, including a Facebook group created by Lillian Purich where members post upcoming local protests, donating money to pro-black organizations such as the NAACP and the George Floyd memorial fund, signing petitions for different things including arresting the officers responsible for Floyd’s death, and keeping followers informed on social media, all of which can be found on the Black Lives Matter Carrd website.

“The most you can do behind a screen is donating, signing petitions, sympathizing with the people suffering, educating family and friends on the reality of the situation, and registering to vote,” Doane adds. “Reminder: your silence is violence.”