Lake Oswego residents hold vigil for George Floyd, peaceful protests
Lake Oswego community members lined A Avenue and State Street Sunday, May 31, as candles were lit and signs were held to commemorate the life of George Floyd — an African-American man who was killed May 25 by asphyxiation after a Minneapolis police officer held him on the ground and pressed his knee into his neck for almost nine minutes.
The vigil, organized by Lake Oswego's Respond to Racism organization, was meant to honor not only Floyd but also Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor and other victims of police violence.
"Our intent was that it was going to be peaceful and a vigil," said Terri Kraemer, one of Respond to Racism's organizers. "There's a real need in our community to show support and to help with healing but also to help with change."
Roughly 40 people gathered — spaced out on the streets — holding signs with messages like "Because I'm white I can go jogging Ahmaud Arbery could not," "No justice, no peace" and "Black Lives Matter." Others drove by with supportive messages and honked their honors in solidarity.
Willie Poinsette, co-founder of Respond to Racism, said the theme of the vigil was justice and that she was pleased with the amount of local support. The point of the vigil was to recognize "that many, many lives have been lost over the years through (shear police brutality and murder by police)," Poinsette said. "We wanted to call attention to that. Sort of like, 'Wake up folks in Lake Oswego. Black lives matter: black men, black women, boys, girls.'"
Nearby businesses including the Lake Theater & Cafe showed their support by writing "Justice for George Floyd" on their marquee and posting on their Instagram with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. stating "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
Their post also showed a hateful message from an anonymous Lake Oswego business owner, which they said wasn't the first negative email they received.
"These protests reveal the necessity of countless other sweeping changes needed to put us on paths of solidarity and equal opportunity in our society," Lake Theater's Instagram post read. "Here in Lake Oswego, we are, for better or worse, sheltered from much of the hardship and conflict of these times. But be not silent."
Kraemer said the idea for the vigil came to fruition after a community member suggested it. The Respond to Racism leadership team decided to proceed with it cautiously due to COVID-19 concerns.
"So we invited a small group of people to join us in the vigil, trying to keep it around 25 to 30 people, but then word got out," Kraemer said.
They decided to let the entire Respond to Racism community know so no one would be hurt or offended that they weren't invited, which under normal circumstances Kraemer said would not have been the case.
If people didn't feel comfortable physically distancing on the streets, they were invited to drive by with signs in their vehicle windows and honk to show support.
"We had no idea the tremendous response," said Kraemer, adding that there were at least six or eight people who happened to walk by and stayed to join,as well as a group of four or five young adults who drove by and saw the group, made signs and came back to join the vigil. "I believe that's because people are reeling from the murder of Mr. Floyd and also the other murders that have happened recently, so I think trying to find a way to express the anger and the hurt and trying to find a way to show support for our black community is important for most of our citizens."
A demonstration was also held in downtown Lake Oswego Thursday afternoon, with another scheduled Friday.
But not every community has had such peaceful protests.
And while the Sunday vigil was peaceful, Kraemer said not all protests need to be peaceful.
"We have been having peaceful protests for decades and it hasn't changed anything," Kraemer said in an email to the Review. "If non-peaceful protests are what it takes for there to be systemic changes to end racism in all of our systems (justice, health care, education etc.) then so be it."
Many protests across the country have ended in violence.
"I think that it's important for people to distinguish between the protesters who are protesting about the killing of Mr. Floyd and the killing of other black men and women by police and those with other agendas," Kraemer said. "We need to distinguish that grieving process and the pain from people who are using violence for other reasons and not out of respect for Mr. Floyd and not out of the desire to see a change in the justice system."
Poinsette said she wasn't pleased with the rioting and destruction of property following many of the peaceful protests across the country.
"Those people are not about what we're talking about in terms of making a change," said Poinsette, adding that it's important to have the old and young come together to talk about what needs to change in the United States and to bring people together rather than tear them apart.
The Lake Oswego School District also sent a letter from Superintendent Lora de la Cruz to the school community expressing disgust and sadness with George Floyd's death.
"Many of our children have undoubtedly viewed this horrific event, and have now witnessed, with the rest of us, the ensuing violence and anger erupting across the country," the email read. "I am heartbroken about yet another person's life being taken, another family losing a loved one, and another incident adding to the collective and historical wounding of our communities of color, and indeed each and every one of us."
De la Cruz offered support to students and said that those who wish to talk are welcome to reach out to staff, administrators, counselors, or any other trusted adult in the school community.
"To our neighbors, friends, community members of color, I want to convey this: I see you and I hear you. I understand you have a different lived experience than I do, and I want to understand so that we can grow and heal together," the email read. "We strive to do our part to build an environment that is safe and inclusive. We sometimes fail in that mission when a student, a family or a staff member feels unseen, unheard or unwelcome. Please know that we'll never stop listening, learning and working to fulfill our responsibilities to our community."
Lake Oswego Police Department Sgt. Tom Hamann said the department belongs to the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police, which released a letter May 28 in conjunction with Oregon State Sheriffs' Association and Oregon State Police in response to Floyd's death — and agrees with the message in the letter, reassuring communities they don't condone that type of police conduct.
"Public trust and accountability for police agencies and police officers is crucial to a safe, inclusive community. We recognize that even isolated incidents of police misconduct anywhere undermine public trust everywhere," the letter read. "We are dismayed and disgusted when the actions of a few tarnish the reputation of our honorable law enforcement profession and undermine the heroic work our police officers perform in service to our communities. We will continue to work hard to strengthen the confidence Oregonians have in our work and we value the trust you place in us."
Hamann said they don't train officers to kneel on someone in that manner and do not agree with the police tactics that were used.
"It damaged the trust of the rest of the police officers that are doing the right thing every day," Hamann said. "We feel that it's absolutely everyone's right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate and express their opinions about what they feel is happening in the country … The issue we have is with the violence that's been happening and the property damage that's been happening."
Bruce Poinsette, vice president of Respond to Racism, said all officers should be required to wear body cams.
"It's hard to be like, 'That's not worth it,' when we see the alternative," Poinsette said in response to the cost of body cameras. "I'd like to see more defined de-escalation training with actual accountability measures."
Willie Poinsette agreed and said in the case of George Floyd, without the video footage, the story might have been different.
"I think they're (body cameras) valuable and I don't care about cost," Willie said. "A body camera cannot cost more than a life."
Bruce Poinsette said he's spoken with members of the LOPD and thinks that although they are doing a lot of the right things, that it "can't just be a few people trying to do the right thing."
"It can't just be individuals, we're talking about systems," he said, adding that there must be measures in place to make sure officers are learning and applying what they learn — and if not there should be discipline.
He added that people shouldn't demonize others who are upset because they don't have their basic safety rights being respected. He has noticed people discussing who's actually participating in the riots and doesn't like to feed into that conversation.
"It takes the light off the fact that people are fed up with police brutality; people are fed up with white supremacy," he said.
Hamann said there are issues that need to be addressed and that LOPD is working hard to be transparent and are doing the right thing, right now. He said the police agency continues to try and develop positive relationships with organizations like Respond to Racism and the community as a whole.
LOPD partners with Word is Bond, a Portland-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to build positive relationships between black men and law enforcement, and that has helped to better build those positive relationships and start conversation.
"It's just a sad circumstance for Mr. Floyd's family, for the community, for the department and the officers I'm sure (who) work there that are doing the right thing and are good police officers, our profession as a whole, and the unrest all this has caused in our community and in our nation," Hamann said.
Willie Poinsette reiterated that most police aren't bad but there are some "bad eggs."
"So as we recruit, I hope they are recruiting people that are not of some of the old mindsets and some of the types of people that went into police work," she said. "If they're trigger happy or violence happy then that's a person who needs some serious mental health support and should not be a police officer."
She added that she appreciates the relationship she has with the LOPD and that she's able to express her concerns with the police force.
"I like the fact that he (the chief) has an open door for that," Poinsette said.
Bruce Poinsette said people showing up to the vigil to show their support and raise awareness was meaningful but there is a more consistent, everyday need.
"That tells me I think the next step especially in a place like Lake Oswego is building a larger coalition … and really mobilize with that," he added. "I hope to see the momentum continue building."
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