Demonstrators gather in Winslow to stand up for racial equity

Across the nation, protests have taken place to call for justice and police reform in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. Last week, Bainbridge Islanders also gathered in a peaceful, united call to action against racial inequities.

Call and response chants of “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” and “Say his name, George Floyd,” echoed down Winslow Way in the afternoon hours of June 4 as hundreds of demonstrators packed the sidewalks at the Highway 305 intersection.

The event, organized by the Kitsap Equity Race And Community Engagement Coalition (ERACE), was the third such collective action orchestrated by the group in Kitsap County that week.

Droves gathered carrying signs calling for justice for Floyd and the names of black men and women who have been killed at the hands of police in recent years. Among the crowd, bearing a flag for the Bainbridge Island Race Equity Task Force, was James Friday.

“All we want is to let the white-privileged know that their time is over,” said Friday, who also chairs the task force. “We need to have equality, whether that be within the justice system, or within city government.”

To that end, Friday said the Race Equity Task Force’s role in the city government is to advise and inform officials on how to manage procedures and processes that incorporate race equity.

Speaking to an apparent demographic shift on the island, Friday said he has watched Bainbridge change in the 32 years that he has called it home.

“It seems to me that there has been an influx of affluent people who think that they have prestige, money and power and they exert that type of power over people who are impoverished, or not rich, or are different than they are. We just need to, as a community on Bainbridge Island, understand that that type of behavior is unacceptable.”

In the crowd, Karen Vargas, a local community activist, walked to each corner at the intersection and handed flowers to some of those in attendance.

“This is about standing in solidarity, unity, hope, community; this is a people’s protest, we are standing up against injustice,” Vargas said. “The issues are across the board, how inequity shows up and how lives are affected and how violence shows up in our communities.”

With many of the nationwide protests descending into violence prompting police response, Vargas said Thursday’s protest was a demonstration to the community that action can be taken without violence.

“We can stand up against injustices without violence,” she explained. “We can demonstrate and model to our communities that we can address all of these inequities, all of these issues, in a non-threatening and non-violent way.”

Vargas also called upon the community to stand up and make their voices heard as well.

“We need our community members, our families, our young people, our school districts and our governments to stand up and say, ‘We are not going to just silently stand by and allow all of this eruption and destruction to happen without addressing the issues.’ These [riots] are the manifestations of injustice that has gone on for years. This is not new.”

The pursuit of racial equity, she added, did not solely fall upon law enforcement either, but rather the issue belonged to communities as a whole.

“Law enforcement shouldn’t be the only ones to take a stand against injustice. My neighbor should not be born in a place where they are bystanders when they see injustices happening right in front of them. We have done that for too long. When will community members stand up?”

When asked what a single person can do to take action against racial inequity, despite such a pervasive legacy throughout American history, Vargas gestured to the hundreds gathered around her on the sidewalk.

“This movement started with one person and now its grown,” Vargas said. “One person can make an impact, one person that is not a bystander when they see injustice and inequity happening, they make the difference … One becomes two and two becomes three and when we all are taking our responsibility and addressing these inequities, we become many. So, the one makes the difference.”

Speaking to the need for many voices in ERACE’s pursuit, Vargas echoed the message of the signs carried by many of the demonstrators which read: “Silence is violence.”

“We no longer can be silent; silence is violence,” she explained, punctuating the statement by tapping her walking stick on the sidewalk. “All of us are leaders in equity, all of us are leaders to address injustices, all of us have to take a stand.”

“How do these things continue to be perpetuated?” Vargas asked.

“When we stand by and we don’t open our mouths.”