Hundreds of protestors gathered in Mitchell Park on May 31 at 1 p.m. in solidarity with George Floyd, who died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nine minutes.
R.A.C.E Matters SLO organized the rally to protest “violence and injustice against black and brown people in America,” according to a Facebook post.
“How much black trauma, dehumaization, disregard for black life must we see on camera before we transform this country?” rally organizer and R.A.C.E. Matters SLO founder Courtney Halie said. “We’re here for black life, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many more — most who have not been filmed.”
The rally started with a speech from Cuesta College graduate and future Sacramento State student Tianna Arata.
“We [San Luis Obispo] lack diversity. We lack voice. We lack community, and it’s suffocating,” Arata said. “I feel every day in this town like I can’t breathe. I am being suffocated.”
Only 2.1 percent of San Luis Obispo County’s population is black; 22.8 percent is Hispanic or Latino, 4 percent is Asian, 1.4 percent is Native American and 88.8 percent is white, according to the 2010 census.
“Black and brown kids here in SLO are struggling,” Cuesta College student Leianna Jefferson said. “Every day my brothers have a target on their back.”
The rally ended with a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, which was the amount of time former police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck.
After the rally, about 200 protestors, including children and elderly adults, spilled onto the streets to continue the protest.
They walked in a circle from Higuera St. to Nipomo St. to Marsh St. to Morro St. about four times, chanting, “Say his name, George Floyd,” “Say her name, Breonna Taylor,” and “Black Lives Matter.”
Police officers blocked streets out of the downtown corridor, so the protest didn’t expand further into the city, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reported.
The protestors stopped intermittently along the route for speakers. At one of the stops, everyone laid down for eight minutes and 46 seconds to commemorate Floyd.
San Luis Obispo Police Chief Deanna Cantrell and two other police officers walked with the crowd.
Police officers followed the protest on bikes, motorcycles and on foot. Some police officers dropped water bottles for the protestors.
Environmental management sophomore Mattie Vogler attended the protest as an ally.
“We kind of live in a bubble, because it’s so mellow here, but I think that it’s important for communities like this to be supportive of the movement,” Vogler said.
San Luis Obispo preacher Mia Shin also attended as an ally and spoke at the rally.
”If you are out here and you are white, and you see someone is treating someone of color wrongly, you need to speak up,” Shin said.
Local poet Anton Bird spoke about his experience as a black man in San Luis Obispo at the rally.
“Someone asked me what it’s like to be black, and I still have the same answer for them. I love it, it’s dope,” Bird said. “But I have to address something, that’s just as painful. I’m terrified … I’m scared to dress a certain way because I’m afraid of ruffling the feathers of people who don’t have open minds, so they might think something of me because they chose to see the color of my skin before they saw me as a damn person. I’m terrified just to be me, to simply be me.”