JACKSON, Wyo. — The energy was palpable from blocks away.
Minutes before 7 p.m. Monday night, hundreds of people filed into the Town Square in downtown Jackson wielding signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe.” Then, for exactly eight minutes and 46 seconds, everyone who was physically able knelt in silence.
The demonstration was in honor of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 4 seconds on May 25. In a now-viral video captured of the incident, Floyd can be heard yelling “I can’t breathe” and eventually yelling for his “mama.” He was arrested for buying cigarettes with an alleged forged $20 bill.
“Eight minutes is a long time,” said demonstrator and Jackson local Lexi Forsyth. Forsyth observed that kneeling for that long is uncomfortable.
“It’s hard to be on one knee,” she said. “He still did it.”
Floyd’s death, along with several recent other deaths of black men and women at the hands of police, have reignited the Black Lives Matter movement nationwide. In and around Teton County, the movement is bigger than ever. Monday’s was the second demonstration in Jackson, and similar demonstrations have taken place in neighboring Victor, Idaho, Pinedale, Wyoming, and across the state. A “March for Unity” is scheduled for this Sunday, June 14.
The movement is also changing shape. Signs to “defund the police” offered a concrete “ask,” and echoed national cries to redistribute funding from law enforcement into other sectors like social services and healthcare.
“We’re asking police to act as social workers, but training them in violence,” said professional skier Sophia Schwartz. Schwartz is among a growing group of Jackson locals asking Teton County Commissioners to reduce the Teton County Sheriff’s Office budget and redirect funds to social services for the 2021 fiscal year.
“Policing is not going to change the issue [when the police’s] main domain is violence,” Schwartz said.
House Representative Mike Yin sees this as a call to action for elected officials like himself. He’s looking into state-wide policies that could help shape the nature of policing in Wyoming.
When the kneeling ended, many stuck around and took the demonstration to the southwest corner of the Square. Chants of “Black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace” filled the streets of downtown Jackson.
The only serious moment of tension happened at roughly 8 p.m., when demonstrators took to the streets and blocked the intersection of Cache and Broadway. Almost immediately, a woman driving a minivan began yelling and honking at the group. A man in a wheelchair exited the vehicle and approached the protestors. According to Yaya Birch, who said she stepped in to break it up and disassemble the group, the man yelled at her and called her racist names. A video of the incident shows Birch saying “we’re here to be peaceful” while the car’s driver shouted profanities and her and other demonstrators. The group eventually disbanded without incident.
“I’m over it,” Birch said emotionally when it was over. “There needs to be change.”
Before leaving, demonstrators decorated the southwest antler arch with their signs. For a few brief hours, the arch was a “Black Lives Matter” public art installation. Someone took them down and threw them away a few hours later, but they were back at around 11 p.m., if only for a moment.
180 SPRING GULCH ROAD Pinedale
42 RIVER TRAIL CIRCLE Alpine
1296 BROOKTROUT DRIVE Victor
3923 LONG VIEW LANE Jackson
1260 N SECOND STREET Wilson
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