Hundreds gather for vigil, march in third night of Salem protests over George Floyd’s death

Protestors gathered at the Oregon State Capitol and marched to the site of the new Salem Police Department during the third night of demonstrations against police violence on Monday, June 1. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Zack Jackson stood on the steps of the Oregon Capitol as the sun set Monday night, addressing hundreds of demonstrators sitting and kneeling below.

“This is how change happens, from people like you,” he said

Jackson, 33, was the first to address the crowd that gathered to mourn the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, and to call for an end to police violence and better police-community relations.

The three-hour event began with demonstrators taking a knee in State Capitol State Park, then congregating at the Capitol for speeches and a candlelight vigil before marching to the new Salem police headquarters, leaving candles at a police barricade on Liberty Street.

PHOTOS: Salem sees a third day of protest with candles, a march and officers taking a knee

Nearly all who spoke to the crowd were black. Many said it was the first time they saw white people turn up in significant numbers to mourn and protest the death of a black person killed by police.

“I came out when Mike Brown passed away and did a protest with 10 people over there,” one man said, pointing to the side of the steps.

Salem police Lieutenants Jason Van Meter and Treven Upkes joined protesters in taking a knee on the lawn of the Capitol during the third night of demonstrations against police violence on Monday, June 1. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem police joined protesters in taking a knee, blocked traffic for the march and spoke with demonstrators during the event, drawing mostly positive reactions from the crowd.

Sharaya Hamer, 16, a McNary High School student, knelt on the grass with her fist raised as Salem police Lts. Treven Upkes and Jason Van Meter walked toward the front of the group. She burst into tears as they knelt.

Hamer said it was her first night protesting in Salem. She said Floyd’s death was just the latest black person killed unjustly, and she wanted to see justice.

“I’m tired of seeing innocent people’s lives taken,” she said.

Hamer said from a young age, her dad told her to be careful around police because as a young black woman with an afro, she was more likely to be seen as a threat. Seeing the officers join with protesters Monday night changed her perspective, she said.

”It warmed my heart and made me cry,” she said.

Standing in the crowd, Upkes read a joint statement put out earlier in the evening by Salem police and the Salem-Keizer NAACP that urged peaceful protest.

“Those in charge must be told face-to-face the status quo is not acceptable. Black lives matter not just on paper. But in life,” Upkes read.

Several in the crowd called out “no more tear gas” at the officers, echoing concerns raised during a local NAACP meeting earlier Monday about peaceful protesters gassed during demonstrations over the weekend.

Others yelled “murder” as Upkes read the statement which referred to Floyd’s “senseless loss of life.”

Zack Jackson speaks to protesters on the Oregon State Capitol steps during the third night of demonstrations against police violence on Monday, June 1. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The group moved to the Capitol steps shortly after 8 p.m., speaking in small groups and chanting before beginning speeches just before 9 p.m.

Darlene and Kinyetta Berry stood in the crowd with others from their family. Both women said they’d been out every night of protests and appreciated Salem police taking steps to support protesters and de-escalate conflict on Monday night.

“It’s beautiful. Change is good,” Kinyetta Berry said.

Their own experience with local police has been mixed. Darlene Berry said she’s had officers stop by and play basketball with her grandchildren, but said she’s also been pulled over and interrogated about having a lighter in her car, with a Salem officer suggesting she was smoking marijuana despite a lack of evidence.

“Some of them need to show more respect,” she said of local officers.

Speakers addressed their own experiences of racism and spoke about the sorrow and anger they’ve felt seeing other black people killed by police or armed vigilantes.

“There are some parts of Oregon I dare not walk into by myself,” said Gary Sims, a black man who’s lived in Salem for 10 years. Others in the crowd murmured in agreement.

Many in the crowd wore masks, and those on the steps sanitized a megaphone with disinfectant wipes between speakers.

As dark fell, protesters lit candles, then marched along Court Street toward the new Salem police headquarters. The crowd spanned two city blocks and moved quickly, chanting “Say his name! George Floyd!”, “I can’t breathe!” and “Black lives matter!”

Protesters marched to the site of the new Salem Police Department during the third night of demonstrations against police violence on Monday, June 1. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Judith Hartzell of Salem marched near the front, holding a sign reading “We live in a world where trained cops can act on impulse but unarmed civilians must remain calm with a gun in their face.”

She said she still didn’t believe police were willing to listen to protesters’ concerns about racism.

“I would like for them to actually hear us,” she said.

Marchers took a knee for several minutes on Liberty Street as police held up traffic crossing on Marion Street. Then, the march went on to a police barricade about a block from the police headquarters, where marchers left lit candles.

There, Upkes and other officers spoke with protesters and told those remaining around 10 p.m. that police would walk with them back to the Capitol, and protesters who then went to their cars would not be violating the city’s curfew.

Protesters leave candles at the site of the new Salem Police Department during the third night of demonstrations against police violence on Monday, June 1. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Protesters who returned to the Capitol gathered again on the steps, chanting “George Floyd,” “Breonna Taylor”, “Trayvon Martin” and “Rekia Boyd,” all black people killed either by police or vigilantes.

About 100 people remained, mostly in small groups. Many were discussing organizing strategy, trading phone numbers and adding each other on Facebook to coordinate future marches.

At about 11 p.m., several urged those lingering to go home.

“On behalf of all black people, please do not mess this up for us,” said Brittany Sims, addressing a group of mostly white protesters who remained.

Sims said she was among the peaceful demonstrators tear-gassed and hit with rubber bullets Sunday night after several white demonstrators began throwing rocks and other items at Salem police. She and others in the march had urged them to stop.

Tatiana Elliott was among the protesters lingering at the Capitol and said she was leaving with a group of friends shortly after 11 p.m. She said she felt police changed tactics after media went home and the crowd began to thin.

Elliott said in an interview that she left with friends after police told the crowd to go home, but said a van pulled up with armed men who were firing projectiles at protesters. She ran and said she saw Salem police arresting people on Winter Street and kicking some people who were facedown.

Elliot said she didn’t know who the men in the van were because she was running away and didn’t get a clear look, but felt the escalation was a betrayal of protesters who had held a peaceful event.

“It was peaceful and nobody was expecting it to get to where it went,” she said.

Salem police spokeswoman Lt. Debra Aguilar said police arrested several people on Winter Street who refused to disperse after being told to. They fired flash bangs, which emit smoke, but didn’t use rubber bullets or other projectiles, she said.

She said officers involved in last night’s activity would be wearing a department issued uniform, vest, with badge or visible display of the wording “police” on it. Aguilar said in an email, “If these individuals were in plain clothes, I would ask that any information be forwarded to us so we can attempt to identify who they are.”

Before leaving for the night, several attendees planned to meet back at the Capitol for another rally Tuesday night.

A march is also planned for Saturday, June 6.

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Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.