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The nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd inspired a protest in Ellensburg Monday, drawing a couple of hundred people to march for justice and equality for everyone, as well as to speak out against police brutality.

Ellensburg High School juniors Jenna Callan and Annie Schlanger were upset with the injustice that occurred in Minneapolis on May 25. They wanted to do something, and they decided to organize the protest.

“Seeing all the stuff happening on the news, it didn’t seem like it was enough to just sit around and feel frustrated,” Schlanger said. “We felt so frustrated, but we just felt like posting things on social media or just talking about our sadness with our friends and our parents wasn’t enough, it just wasn’t enough.”

At first, they spoke to their friends about the protest through social media. Their friends told their friends, and eventually the march was picked up by organizations. Callan and Schlanger were amazed by the amount of people who showed. They were only expecting a few dozen people to show up, not hundreds.

The march started at Barge Hall, and moved downtown through Main Street, eventually working its way back towards city hall. Once there, everyone gathered in a circle, and those willing to speak were offered an open mic.

“Man, I am full in support,” said marcher Jacob Guirell. “I am here to see a reform in our justice system, I am here to see harsher punishment for cops who abuse their power. There is a lot of change that we need to see in our country and it has fallen on deaf ears for a long time. People just want to be able to mute it somehow for the time being. It has obviously gotten to the point where we can’t stay quite anymore.”

The march went smoothly and peacefully, nobody was injured, and it caused no obstruction to city traffic. Protesters kept to the sidewalks and made way for other pedestrians. Chants went across the march, with people yelling, “What’s his name?” to a responding call of “George Floyd!” and the call “No justice!” and response “No peace!” Other chants included “black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe,” the phrase George Floyd was saying while a Minneapolis police officer had his knee pinned to Floyd’s neck.

“This is beautiful, everyone coming together fighting for what they believe in,” said marcher Owen Smith. “Everyone is just hoping for change.”

Once at city hall, the open mic speakers spent the next hour and a half talking about injustice and inequality. People of all ages and races took turns speaking to the crowd.

MESSAGE OF LOVE

The message of love not hate was shared many times by many speakers. Several speakers also pointed out that people have tried silently protesting police brutality, and it made the racists angry and nobody would pay them any attention, now they have to protest loud.

The first speaker was AJ Cooper, an assistant football coach with Central Washington University. During his speech he said there are some people who get to “opt out” of these hard conversations, and there are others who don’t. After the protest he said he felt obligated to speak because he is a “young black man who is in a leadership role,” being a leader was thrust on him earlier than he thought it would.

As a coach, Cooper has to ensure families of players their child is going to be safe in Ellensburg, and they are in a community that supports them.

“We all see the injustice that is going on and we have to address them,” Cooper said. “This is a hard job for us to do but to make sure our people are comfortable we will go to highest extent of peaceful protest to make sure our people are taken care of.”

Agreeing with Cooper was Navy veteran Joseph Epperson, who also spoke during the protest. Epperson served on the USS Ohio submarine. He grew up in Ellensburg and went to high school here and got his degree at CWU.

“Ellensburg is my home, and I am so proud of the community. By a large part they were very supportive,” Epperson said. “This was a moment of change for me, personally. I can’t sit quietly anymore. I have a voice and I need to use it. As a member of this community I am known enough that I need to stand up and I need to start saying something. Racism is getting better but better isn’t good enough, it isn’t just cops.”

Organizers Callan and Schlanger wanted to make it clear the Ellensburg police were not the enemy in this fight. Many police were attending the protest to ensure it went peacefully and it did. The organizers wanted to offer thanks to the police department for its support, presence and professionalism during the protest and the march.

On the Ellensburg Police Department Facebook page, Police Chief Kenneth Wade said it’s “tragedy that systemic racism has not been eliminated and continues to disadvantage our underrepresented communities and people of color.” He also said he was going to be in attendance at the march to “show solidarity with our Black community.”

Another speaker who many in attendance might recognize as the guy who did a back flip was named Nikolai Selski. After the protest he said he was taking this movement very personally — he is from Minneapolis, near where George Floyd was killed. He has friends in that city protesting, and he hopes they stay safe.

Devin Daniels was one of the last speakers during the protest. He thanked everyone for showing up and supporting this movement.

“People are getting shot and killed because they look like me. My parents teach me, ‘not to wear your do-rag outside,’ ‘don’t wear your hoodie outside,’ don’t walk with the wrong people,’ ‘don’t walk if it’s a dark alley you could get shot,’” Daniels said after the protest. “We are taught to have to put up all these measures to protect ourselves just because of what we look like. We are out here with a whole bunch of people who don’t look like me, and it’s so awesome to see there are so many people willing to put themselves in situations they could never otherwise be in. it is a sad reason we are all here together, but I am thankful for everyone here.”

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