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Plymouth North grad Yaxsarie Velazquez talks about the importance of protesting peacefully in Plymouth, Mass. [Wicked Local photo/Scott C. Smith] Chanute High School students have organized a peaceful protest, slated for 7:30 pm, Tuesday, June 9 at the Main Street Pavilion.

ROBERT MAGOBET

National and global outrage over the murder of unarmed George Floyd at the hands of four police officers in Minneapolis has reached the streets of Chanute. 

A group of Chanute High School students and recent graduates have organized a peaceful demonstration, “We are Chanute: United against Racism,” to be held at 7:30 pm Tuesday, June 9, at the Main Street Pavilion. Organizers include Bryan Ayala, Alyssa Andoyo, Jillian Vogel, Grace Lewis and Aaron Rodriquez.

Everything is brought to the light, and there was nothing hidden in a viral video that surfaced on May 25 showing then-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, a Caucasian man, kneeling on the neck of Floyd, an African-American man, with all of his weight, just adjacent to a police cruiser for 8 minutes and 46 seconds – more than two minutes after Floyd became unresponsive. In his final moments, Floyd called to his deceased mother. After an independent autopsy differed from the official one, his death was deemed a homicide from asphyxiation.

On Thursday, there was a memorial in Minnesota in honor of Floyd. (See page 2).

The Floyd video, and several other viral videos over the last two decades, sparked many to decry oppression and racism before peacefully and nonviolently protesting in big cities and towns around the nation over the last week. Those protests also led to opportunists looking to draw attention to specific narratives, those looting and rioting, and people just reacting to perceived wrongdoings. Several unfortunate tragedies across the country have occurred because of the protests. 

Eventually, Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, while former officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng are facing aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter charges. 

Before all of that, though, Ayala, a 16-year-old Mexican-American CHS senior, took note of the video, while thinking about how the gathering on Tuesday could help the world.

“It is very impactful just towards many,” Ayala said. “It may not directly affect me as an individual. But it just led me to think about how many years this type of injustice has been going on.

“This protest is really just going to educate not only the people that are willing to move forward with this movement, but one of our biggest goals is to help everyone receive the tools to fight against racism because I’ve known it is very prominent in this town. And we just would like that to stop. We want this protest to give people the tools to help fight against it.”

With inhumane atrocities evolved into injustices to African-Americans for centuries, Vogel, 17, said the purpose of the demonstration is to enlighten those who have stayed silent or those who are upset, but may not be directly impacted by the wrongdoings.

“A lot of times people here think that we’re exempt from what’s going on in the outside world and kind of have misrepresentations of just what the movement is, so basically we are going to amplify black voices in our community. So we’re going to have a couple different black community members step up, tell their stories and speak out about what they’ve experienced in terms of systematic racism and racism in general. We’re going to have the nine minutes of silence in honor of George Floyd because the officer kneeled for (almost) nine minutes. We would like to honor him in some way that we can.

“Personally, I’ve been following the news and everything, and it just sat with me a different way than I think it sat with a lot of people in our community. And I did what they said to do: I signed a petition, I donated, but I didn’t think it was enough and I thought I was overwhelmed with the amount of ignorance on my Facebook from citizens of Chanute that just really weren’t educated on the issue. And I felt like that was the problem, so that’s why I’m kind of steering this gathering around more education than like condemnation.”

Vogel, along with others, said she will try to help those struggling with the idea of racism by speaking on the subject of white privilege and white allyship in a town that is 93.5 percent Caucasian, 3 percent two or more races, and 2 percent African-American.

“I feel like it was important to address how we as white people can get involved and support our black community in these trying times,” Vogel said.

The gathering is scheduled for two hours at the Main Street Pavilion thanks to approval from the city Wednesday and a meeting with Chanute Police Department to ensure safety. Vogel, the future Harvard student, is still trying to find other black members of the community who want to speak out. 

To help the process, on Thursday Vogel, Ayala and Andoyo had a meeting with black community members, including Chanute High School football personnel and “hope dealer” DJ Dangerfield.

Andoyo, a 17-year-old Filipino-American senior helping with contacting resources, said she has kept in her mind the harrowing racism thrust in her viewing space.

“My entire life, I have watched the news and seen stories like George Floyd come to light in our nation, but it was not until recently that I’ve been able to fully wrap my head around the different issues,” she said. “So for me, George Floyd’s death was what sparked my search about our national issues, our daily protests, petitions to sign, funds to donate to, and the names and stories about every black person who was needlessly murdered.”

 

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