More than 300 people gathered in midtown Anchorage on Friday evening to remind the community that Black Lives Matter. The event came in the wake of two more police shootings of black men and sniper attacks on police in Dallas that killed five officers.
The diverse crowd waved signs reading “Justice for All” and “You don’t have to be black to be outraged” as community leaders, including African-American business leaders, local politicians, and the police chief, spoke at the corner of the parking lot on Northern Lights and the New Seward Highway.
“The problem that happens when black lives get lost in this country is we can’t die in dignity,” community organizer Neisha Jones told the crowd. “So we die and then everything comes up. The criminal record, the parenting, how they have done things in their past…We don’t see that happen to any other race in this country.”
The Washington Post, which has been tracking fatal shootings by police, reports that unarmed black men are seven times as likely to be killed by police gunfire than unarmed white men.
For more than 10 minutes, Jones recited the names of black victims of police shootings. After each, the crowd responded, “Say my name.”
“That doesn’t mean all cops are bad,” Jones told the crowd. “We have some wonderful cops. We also have some cops that have a god complex. That are removed from the communities that they represent and they don’t look like the communities they represent.”
She said that in Anchorage, the police and the black community have a good relationship. “There is no blue wall here. There is no them against us. We live in a city of diversity, and I am thankful for that.”
Police Chief Christopher Tolley read a prepared statement from his phone, thanking the community for supporting each other during the country’s difficult times. “We are all each other’s neighbors, and we will always treat each other with compassion and respect.”
The event was organized over Facebook by three Anchorage women: Annalisha Jacobs, Jasmin Smith, and Brittany Watkins.
Watkins said they didn’t expect the massive turnout, but their post had over 300 shares within 24 hours. Thursday’s shootings in Dallas made the organizers afraid, she said, because they wanted a peaceful event, not something that led to the loss of more innocent lives.
“I want to let people know that ‘Black Lives Matter’ does not mean that
no one else matters. We’re coming together in unity, but we’re just saying, right now we’re hurt,” Watkins explained. “It’s like when you have a broken leg. That broken leg is hurt. You don’t worry about the other bones. You focus on that leg until it’s healed. And then the rest of the body kind of works in motion.”
After the somber reading of names, the event took on a joyous mood of unity as the crowd lined the sidewalks, cheering and waving signs as passing cars honked in support.
Mountain View resident Noah Muloy attended the event as an ally. “Me being a white male, I’ll never experience this, but I can always show my support.” He said he hopes it changes public opinion and can help strength the relationship between the African-American community and the police.
Pastor Yolande Caravine of Anchorage said the Dallas police shootings broke her heart, and people need to realize that not every officer is bad just as not every person is bad.
“When we bleed, we all bleed the same color blood,” she said. “So we need to come together and love one another and stop all this hate and this vindictive evil spirit. Because that’s not how God wants us to be.”