About 100 citizens gathered outside of the Vernetta Smith Chehalis Timberland Library on Saturday afternoon in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, in a continuation of peaceful protests in Lewis County.
“I am here because our government, for too long has hidden behind the veil of racial tolerance, while blacks are discriminated against, humiliated and dehumanized. I am here because our country is steeped in institutional racism instead of mutual respect,” said Jace Brier, one of the protesters, during his speech to the crowd of protesters on Saturday afternoon.
The protesters held up signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” “End Police Brutality”, “Justice for George Floyd” and “White Silence Equals White Violence”. There have been at least three other demonstrations in the Centralia and Chehalis area including one outside of the Lewis County Courthouse in Chehalis which was attended by over 300 people on Monday, June 1.
The protests were sparked in Lewis County and across the country in major U.S. cities by the death of Geroge Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, who was killed on May 25 by a white Minneapolis police officer who has now been arrested and charged with second-degree murder. Floyd was reportedly in police custody after being accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill.
The last two protests were organized by Chehalis resident Joanie Linder, who addressed the crowd on Saturday along with other speakers — Jace Brier, Leah Vanasse, Dodi Forgione, Sarah Brown and Ashley Stewart.
“On Monday over 300 people showed up to the courthouse with an open heart and a fire inside them to make a change,” Linder said. “I decided that since we had such a great turnout on Monday, I wanted to make sure we didn’t lose the momentum. … This is an ongoing conversation with the community about how we can do things better.”
Some cars passing by the protest and citizens holding their signs honked their car horn and waved in support. Citizens of all ages, genders, races attended the protest.
“For me, I feel as though I’ve gone long enough not saying enough, loudly enough. … It’s a conservative area but there’s a strong progressive minority here as well,” said Chris McQuain, a Winlock resident who held up a sign toward the passing cars that read “Demilitarize the Police.”
Jeff Hinrichs, a Chehalis resident in his 60s, said that he attended the protest because he wanted to voice his opinion. Protest attendee Mary Dahlstrom shared Hinrich’s sentiment and added that she thinks it’s time for a change and wants to be a part of that change.
Linder had a sign-up sheet for the names and email addresses of those interested in continuing the conversation about racism.
“It’s an incredible feeling to know that there are this many people and this much support locally. This is long overdue. It’s hard because I don’t think the minorities feel comfortable really being a part of the community because they’ve never been made to feel welcome and now finally we are showing our support,” said Vanasse, one of the protest attendees.
Vanasse also spoke to the crowd about personal safety while speaking out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and attending protests. She said that she has gotten cursed at and flipped off because of the “Black Lives Matter” sign that she displays on her car.
“The awareness is necessary so that we can have the conversations, even if the conversations are hard,” said Mike Green, one of the protesters from Centralia.