Over three days, hundreds of people marched along Sequim’s main street, raised their voices, stood in memoriam, and laid down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to bring attention to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Peaceful protests started on June 3 where hundreds of citizens flocked to the intersection of Washington Street and Sequim Avenue, protesting racism, the death of George Floyd and other black people, and police brutality.
Between 200 and 300 individuals participated in a 12-block march west to Walmart before returning to Sequim’s main downtown intersection, eliciting cheers and horn-honking from motorists.
Courtney Thomas, who organized the Wednesday event through social media, said she was moved in recent days to do something locally.
“I’m scared for the world, for my son; I don’t want this world for my son,” Thomas said, with 5-year-old S. Beckett nearby holding a sign.
“We will not be silenced. We will not stand for this.
“This is the least I can do.”
The next day, about 200 people did the same, chanting “Black Lives Matter,” “No racism,” “I can’t breathe” and more while marching from the downtown intersection to the roundabouts at South Ninth Avenue and River Road.
At the farthest intersection, demonstrators laid down in the roundabout for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of Floyd — a 46-year-old black man, died on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minn., from asphyxiation, after being handcuffed face down.
Police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Chauvin and three officers with him were fired the next day after videos made by witnesses and security cameras became public. Two autopsies found Floyd’s death to be a homicide, and the officers were later arrested.
Sequim High senior Wren Fierro-Burdick organized the Thursday protest with fellow graduate-to-be Zoe Yates, saying they wanted to “take immediate action” for the movement.
“We wanted to help get Sequim involved in Black Lives Matter,” Fierro-Burdick said.
On Friday afternoon, more than 130 demonstrators held a vigil at the Sequim Civic Center plaza for an hour with most of it spent in silence along with another opportunity for participants to lay face down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to honor Floyd’s memory.
Several Sequim participants read dozens of victims’ names, held signs, and placed flowers and pictures of black victims of police violence near the plaza’s totem pole.
Co-organizer Vicki Lowe said their intent was to create a place for people to grieve the losses from racism, acknowledge racism is embedded in our institutions and society, and to acknowledge that healing the ongoing impacts of historical trauma that is inflicted on Americans of color is incumbent on us all.
“Those underlying feelings when something traumatic happens, it really brings out the emotions and people feel depressed or sad or sometimes angry,” she said.
“We wanted to give people a place to let their feelings out because what happened was awful.”
Another peaceful protest is scheduled for 5-8 p.m. on Friday, June 12, in Carrie Blake Community Park.
Some of those marching and/or standing in silence at the vigil in Sequim said they found hope from fellow residents.
Gabriel Stark of Sequim helped lead Thursday’s march, saying that it’s “touching to see so many people from Sequim participate.”
“I’ve been here about nine years and I’ve experienced a few racists but it’s nice to have affirmation that most people aren’t (racist) here,” she said.
Fierro-Burdick said she believes racism isn’t as prevalent in Sequim as other rural communities in Washington.
“We have an overwhelming amount of people in favor of (Black Lives Matter),” she said.
“I think the police department is as supportive as possible given the circumstances.”
The protests brought an array of people from the area to demonstrate too.
Amber Nelson of Port Angeles marched with her 7-year-old grandson in hopes of teaching him about “standing up for the rights of himself and others and the importance of protesting.”
Deej Jones of Sequim said he doesn’t normally participate in events like Thursday’s protest.
“But as one of the few black people in town, I felt led to participate,” he said.
His hope is that local white people will be friendlier to him and other people of color.
And amidst the COVID-19 pandemic still in effect, it was still important for Diane Schanz Miller of Sequim to participate.
“It’s important to speak up and to let people of color in the area and the authorities know (how we fell),” she said. “The more protests the louder the message.”
Lowe said her intent with the vigil was to discuss historical trauma because pretending it did not happen or saying it’s in the past contributes to the pain.
“We need to be accepting of each other’s beliefs,” she said. “There’s not one religion in this country and not one way to think. We need a more accepting viewpoint and strive for more tolerance of other people’s beliefs.”
The Sequim protests came on the heels of other demonstrations across the nation, including Port Angeles and Port Townsend.
Thomas said she was thrilled to see last Wednesday’s turnout grow so large.
“I was thinking maybe I could get 30 (to come out),” she said.
Thomas said that as a local business owner — she operates Peaceful Kneads Corrective Massage in Sequim — she hopes that anyone can feel comfortable walking into a Sequim shop. “That’s not happening right now,” she said.
Sequim police chief Sherri Crain said at the June 8 Sequim City Council meeting that all of the events were, too.
She previously said that Staff Sgt. Sean Madison, who was at Wednesday’s demonstration and subsequent march, was in touch with protest organizers prior to the noontime demonstration, which was beneficial for both the group and police department.
“They were vocal; they were organized,” Crain said.
She said that though there have been some violent protests across the nation, with much of the anger directed toward police, she didn’t hear or get reports of protesters directing that toward Sequim law officers.
“We’re not getting any concerns or issues with us,” Crain said.
“This is a very emotional time — what I call a moment,” she said.
“It’s easy to see the racial unrest and problems; some parts of the country are doing better than others,” she said. “There are a lot of things happening in parts of the country we as a society need to address.
“We (law enforcement departments) are learning as we go along (and) in general our profession has grown,” she said.
“There’s room for a bigger conversation.”
The City of Sequim also posted on facebook that the protests remained peaceful throughout, despite rumors to the contrary. Crain said she talked to a local business owner who during the protests posted a video warning locals of potential violence and disorderly conduct. After a conversation with that owner, the video was taken down, she said.
A group of armed men congregated near the rally.
“I get that their heart’s in the right place, (but) rumors and bad information can do a lot of harm,” Crain said.
She said the department fielded phone calls for much of the day about what turned out to be a non-violent demonstration, calling it a “cautionary tale.”
The city’s social media post noted, “At no point at today’s event, was there any factual evidence suggesting violent or bad actors. Members of the community are reminded that rumors that get out of control can make people nervous and panic unnecessarily. During this time of national crisis, it is important to remember that people do want to be heard and we can anticipate more protests. It is in our history to support peaceful protests in our community from groups that need to be heard. The Sequim Police Department, as always, will monitor these events.
“Please disregard any rumors that members of Antifa are being bused to Sequim from out of town. There is no police intelligence to support this rumor.”