‘No justice, no peace!’: Thousands demonstrate in Southcentral against racism and police killings

Protesters march through downtown Anchorage on Friday, June 5, for a protest to honor George Floyd, whose killing in Minneapolis by police has sparked nationwide protests (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement drew thousands of residents from around Southcentral Alaska who marched peacefully over the weekend. 

One of the most-watched – and well-attended – was a protest in Palmer that raised concerns about violence but ended mostly peacefully on Saturday. 

The march, advertised as the Palmer Vigil for Victims of Targeted Police Racism, caused concern after a Lucas Howard, a concealed-carry advocate, claimed in a Facebook video that “if things get out of hand, then we’ll go ahead and step up and assist law enforcement as they ask us to do so.” That comment was interpreted in some social media circles as a sign that the Palmer Police force had enlisted the help of a citizen militia, something police and Howard denied. 

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Protesters begin their march through Palmer on Saturday, May 6. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Shortly before the rally, Howard and his group met with organizers of the Black Lives Matter march. Howard, along with several supporters, exchanged some heated words but, then, shared a prayer before the start of the rally. It was led by Eden Johnson, one of the organizers. 

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Event organizer Eden Johnson (left) and Lucas Howard (middle), listen to John Duke before the start of Saturday’s march (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

“I think we all had a lot of assumptions as to how things would have turned out but I’m glad that we were able to communicate here and now and in person,” Johnson said. 

Hundreds of protesters joined the march, which started at noon and made its way in a short loop around the main streets of Palmer, passing the police and state trooper station along the way. There was no visible police presence at the march, though State Troopers stood outside their building watching the marchers pass. 

Supporters of Black Lives Matter in Palmer on June 6, 2020 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

On the periphery of the crowd, there were several arguments between supporters of Black Lives Matter, and those who rejected its ideas. At least one incident came to blows. Howard, as well as unarmed trained de-escalators who supported the Black Lives Matter march, helped diffuse the situation. 

Lucas Howard (right) tries to calm a counter-protester after an argument with a protester became physical. Armed and unarmed citizens both worked to de-escalate tensions on the periphery of the demonstration where a small group of counter-protestors had gathered (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Many supporters at the protest drove from Anchorage after hearing of the controversy and in order to show their support. 

“What originally drew me out here was the controversy over the militia,” said Jim Rogers, who attended the march from Anchorage carrying a sign in support of police reforms. He said he was carrying a gun in his backpack in case of any security concerns, but called opponents of the march he had spoken to “nice people.”    

Jim Rogers holds a sign in front of the demonstrators on Saturday, June 6. Rogers said he is advocating for 8 Can’t Wait, a nationwide series of policy recommendations for police forces to reduce police violence. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

At a rally in downtown Anchorage on Friday evening, over a thousand marchers took to the streets. During speeches before the event, relatives of a 16-year-old Samoan boy, Lufilufilimalelei “Daelyn” Polu, who was killed by police earlier this year spoke out against police brutality against minorities. 

Protest organizers called up Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz to address the marchers. Berkowitz came to the stage and said while America was founded on equality,  the country hadn’t lived up to that promise. 

Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz speaks on Friday, June 5. Berkowitz acknowledged the Anchorage Police Department isn’t perfect. But, he said, “this police department doesn’t do the things that are done in other places.” (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

“That is not our history, that is not the way of our past, and if you want change, you have to change the future,” he said to cheers from the crowd. 

He also stood up for the Anchorage Police Department, despite cries from some of the protesters of “murderers” and “liar” from some in the crowd. 

“This police department is listening to what you have to say. This police department doesn’t do the things that are done in other places. But we can be better,” Berkowitz said.

Desmond David-Pitts, the brother of Daelyn Polu, who was shot and killed by Anchorage Police, is comforted after the mayor’s speech. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

On Saturday morning in Anchorage, healthcare workers, many wearing scrubs and lab coats, marched along the park strip in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The demonstrations were peaceful.

Protesters on Saturday, June 6, 2020, stopped outside of the Anchorage Police Department headquarters. Some shared stories over a microphone about police interactions. They talked about bias, racism and force, and called for change at the police department. The “Your Voice Matters” rally was organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation Anchorage. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media) 

Sean Northover was at the protest Saturday evening in the city with his friends, his wife and their son, Moses, who is almost two years old. He said he was there to support the Black Lives Matter movement and black people across America, to fight back against racism. Also, he said, it’s important for Moses to see this historic moment and to know his voice matters.

“If you ever feel like someone has their foot on you, stand up,” Northover, 30, said. “At all times, be strong.”

Sean Northover and his son, Moses, in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, June 6, 2020. Northover said he attended the march in support the Black Lives Matter movement and black people across America. Also, he said, it’s important for Moses to see this historic moment and to know his voice matters. The “Your Voice Matters” rally was organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation Anchorage. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media) 

Protesters demanded changes at the Anchorage Police Department including that officers go through mandatory, intensive mental health training.

At all of the protests, masks were mandatory. Volunteers handed out face coverings to anyone without one. 

Alaska Public Media’s Tegan Hanlon contributed to this story.

Lex Treinen is covering the state Legislature for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at ltreinen@gmail.com.

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