Benicia High School students hold Youth Against Brutality protest and march on First St.
Protesters in Benicia call for an end to police brutality and justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.The Benicia Herald, by Galen Kusic, Editor, and Aleta Andrews, Correspondent, June 5, 2020
As the country continues to mourn in anger over the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week, activists and protesters have taken to the streets to call for justice and accountability for not only Floyd’s murder, but the countless other black and brown people that have been murdered by the police without repercussion or consequence.
While surrounding cities like Vallejo, Richmond, Oakland, San Francisco and others have experienced police violence toward protesters, Benicia thus far has experienced peace. As looting continues and curfew restrictions have been put in place county-wide, Benicia High School students organized a peaceful Youth Against Brutality Black Lives Matter march and protest on Sunday in honor of Floyd and the many other black people that have been killed at the hands of law enforcement or racists.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country with over 105,000 deaths and nearly two millions positive cases, millions are also calling for justice for the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year old black man that was hunted down and shot by two men while jogging in Georgia in Feb. and Breonna Taylor, who was shot by police eight times while asleep in her bed as police unlawfully entered her home without a warrant looking for a man that did not even live at the residence.
The outrage throughout the nation has sparked protests, arson and destruction of businesses, but it should be noted that much of this destruction is not caused by peaceful demonstrators. Movements for civil rights have historically been infiltrated by racist and anarchist groups in an attempt to draw attention away from the issue at hand.
While Benicia has thus far escaped looting or riots, it is up to the citizens and residents of the community to stand up to hatred, police terrorism and violence to create a more just and democratic society for all.
The demonstration began at 11 a.m. at the First Street Park near the Gazebo and marched down First St. to the waterfront. In an effort to make it known that Benicia does not support racism and that people are willing to fight for those that have lost and fear for for the lives, the marchers stood in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and oppressed people nationwide.
Herald correspondent Aleta Andrews took photos and caught up with some of the protesters to get their take on the state of the nation and what can be done to make positive change for equality.
“We must find a way to escape this cycle of hatred and violence, we must take the lead for our brothers and sisters cause a cause without a voice or direction is a lost one,” said Benicia High student and organizer Tyler Payne. “The enemy is hatred – one of the devil’s greatest weapons. The true way to combat that is and will be found in unity. Great minds together can change so much.”
As people marched down First St., students called for an end to ignorance and for people to stand up and fight for equality for all. White privilege was continually discussed, citing that white people must recognize their privilege and realize that just because an issue is not directly affecting them, that it is even more important to use that privilege for good and stand up for what is right through protest, civil action and a change in policy.
“People need to start texting those numbers for people to realize what privilege they have and make a list of all the possible ways to help– join a protest, be there as an ally, just listen to the voices that need to be heard, be active,” said BHS student Lia St. Pierre.
Later on during the protest, Benicia Police officers took a knee in the park to show solidarity with the protesters, but activists called on law enforcement to do more in the wake of these horrific tragedies.
“The most important thing that happened today was that the police eventually stood in solidarity with us after many conversations,” said BHS student Elijah Hahn-Smith. “This isn’t just a today thing, this needs to happen everywhere.”
Other protesters realized the fine line that many must walk, as members of their own families are literally torn apart by the civil unrest and anger from both sides. The consensus remained the same, law enforcement must do more to make a change and stand for what is right, instead of going with the status quo that has brought the nation to a boiling point.
“For me, I’m put in a hard spot because I have family members that are police,” said Adriana Bernasconi. “I want them to speak out more than ever to weed out the bad ones.”
Other BHS protesters noted they had been to protests around the area and relayed information that police had actually instigated tension amongst activists.
“We were at the protests in Oakland on Saturday and it started peaceful and then the police initiated the aggression,” said BHS student Alexander Valencia.
Students called for an end to racism and for people to look deep within themselves to realize who they really are and what is just. Without introspection and reflection from white people, law enforcement and lawmakers, many believe nothing will change and things will only get worse.
“We need to dismantle racism no matter how many generations it might take,” said BHS student Winnford Dela Torre. “We are here centuries later but we’re still in the same place.”
While many strides have been made through community activism throughout the nation to improve community policing practices and oversight, there is still a long way to go.
“What needs to happen now is that our local branches, our local police need to support us,” said parent Kashanna Lee. “I’ve had my own experiences with fear for me and my children. If they were marching with us today and made a clear statement saying, we are here for you, that would make a difference. This needs to happen on a national level and change legislation. Police are being treated better than civilians.”
While activists did see Benicia Police kneeling with protesters as a positive moment, they also saw it for what it was – a tactic to keep protesters peaceful.
“The big thing that is being missed is that this moment gave people hope that we can actually make a change,” said activist Amon. “It inspired people that were able to force them to bend to our will rather than it being the other way traditionally…so when things get tough as the revolution moves forward, they have something to look back on and hold on to as a reminder of how powerful we truly are united.”Photos by Aleta Andrews and Teresa Van Woy.