GREAT FALLS — Marching from Whittier Park to the Central Avenue Bridge that overlooks the Missouri River, scores of protesters rallied in Great Falls on Friday evening.
For supporters of the Black Lives Matter and Justice for Floyd movements that have spiked across the country since George Floyd’s death on May 25, marches like Friday’s are a chance to get their message heard by the people with the power to make the changes that those supporters seek.
“I dearly, dearly hope that the government is taking a look and being like, ‘this is a corrupt system, we need to fix this,’” said Ava Fronsee, a Native American protester.
Signs reading “Black Lives Matter”, “I Can’t Breathe,” and a myriad of other well-known quotes and sayings from the Black Lives Matter movement were held high as the group of 100+ protestors made their way from Whitter Park to the bridge.
Kepatrick Thomas expressed his gratitude that people of all races and ethnic backgrounds had showed out for the march, and said he felt that it really helped the group drive home their message.
“I think by showing support, having people come out, show support, no matter what race you are, no matter how you feel, if you come out here and support the movement, it helps move it along,” said Thomas, who is African-American. “This rally is only the beginning, all of us coming together, black people, white people, everyone, all these different races coming together, we’re going to start it. We need to get to the polls, starting voting in people that you see will make a change, and make that change right away, as quick as possible. Slowly but progressively get towards change.”
Event organizer Cedrianna Brownell spoke in the park next to the Civic Center before the group made its mass exodus and headed towards the bridge. She explained that one of the purposes of the march was to educate people on what it means to defund the police, and to call for improved de-escalation training within the Great Falls Police Department, as well as other police departments around the country.
“Right now, in the state of Montana, it is not required that police officers do de-escalation training,” explained Brownell, standing on a table in front of the crowd. “What de-escalation training is is non-verbal ways to de-escalate a situation. This is important for our police department, because if they get called out, chances are the situation is already to the point to where it needs to be de-escalated.”
She went on to explain that the newly popular phrase “defund the police” does not mean that protesters are calling for police departments to be completely defunded and disbanded.
“I think that good cops are essential for a functioning society. This does not mean that they’re losing their jobs, it does not mean that their pensions are getting cut,” said Brownell. “This means that we are reallocating sources that the police have that is extra to resources in our community that we need more of, such as mental health therapists, homeless shelters, and schools. We’re asking police officers to juggle so many hats right now, we expect them to go into schools and teach our kids, we expect them to know how to handle the mentally ill when they’re not equipped to handle that, but they have the funds to that they’re not doing anything with. So, defunding them is going to help reallocate those resources to the places that need it.”
This was the third such event in Great Falls since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th.
Since then, demonstrations have been held across the country, often echoing the themes of “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” following Floyd's death. Floyd died after police officer Derek Chauvin held a knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Chauvin has been charged with homicide, and three other officers have been charged with aiding and abetting a homicide.
Each of the three demonstrations held in Great Falls have been directed toward a specific focus. The first protest which took place on May 31st, Justice for George Floyd, was intended to raise community awareness of systemic discrimination. The second march, National Day of Action for Black Lives, held on June 5th, was aimed at educating the community about ways to take action against discrimination in our own community.
The three Great Falls events have all been peaceful and attracted scores of people; contrary to several rumors, however, there were no known out-of-state activists.