‘My heart is broken’: Steamboat holds peaceful, emotional protest in response to death of George Floyd (with photo gallery, video)
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — “My heart is broken,” said Danielle Berkobien, a 26-year-old mother of two. She wept as she stood on the Routt County Courthouse lawn in downtown Steamboat Springs holding a hand-painted Black Lives Matter sign in one hand and her young son in the other.
“My heart brought me here,” she said.
Berkobien joined about 40 people in a protest Monday in response to the racial injustice and police brutality displayed in the May 25 death of Minneapolis man George Floyd. Steamboat’s impromptu protest was another in a series of protests happening across the nation.
While some demonstrations around the U.S. have devolved into violence and destruction, Steamboat’s was peaceful. People held signs, flowers and their clenched fists in the air. They shouted the names of several black individuals who had recently died unjustly including Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Many passersby honked their car horns in support of the event.
The group also kneeled in silence for eight minutes and 46 second to mark the amount of time Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee pressed on Floyd’s neck. The former officer has now been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in connection with Floyd’s death.
“Every single city in America, every single town, needs to be doing this right now. There is no other option,” said Kendra Ruth, 27, of Steamboat.
Ruth decided she would organize a protest and had asked others to join her. A simple Facebook post published Sunday read, “Show up with me Steamboat. Monday 12 p.m.”
And people responded.
“There are people of color in our community,” Ruth said. “We are an extremely privileged community, and we’re here to let them know we’re here for them.”
Others engaging in the protest expressed the same sentiment about Steamboat’s privilege and wealth.
“There’s so much money here. Why couldn’t people use their trust funds to help?” said Timothy Carter, 25, of Steamboat. “Complacency is death.”
White people can join the cause by showing support and lifting up the voices of those directly affected by instances of racism, Carter said. They can donate money and use their connections and influence to get help for those who have no voice, he added.
Ruth acknowledged that Steamboat is the “whitest place” she’s ever lived. Having lived here for the last two years, Ruth, originally from Salem, Massachusetts, said she’s seen and experienced racism in Steamboat. But she said she’s also seen and experienced inclusivity.
“Screaming at people, fighting with them, telling them they need to see my side is not the answer,” Ruth said.
Instead, she said it’s about leading by example and giving people the resources to educate themselves about racism and violence in the U.S.
“It’s the only way to do it,” she said.
Ruth said she organized the protest partly because she wanted to be on the right side of history, but also because she believed it was her duty.
“Some people donate money, some people educate themselves, some people protest, some change laws. Every single person in this country needs to pick a role — or you’re racist,” she said. “Silence is violence. We need to use our privilege to stand up for people who haven’t been listened to. It is our time.”
Citizens of all ages attended the protest, most held signs that denounced racism and hate while others simply took a knee on the grass.
Birkobein brought her children to the protest because she wanted them to understand that a person’s skin color doesn’t matter.
“I want them to treat everyone the same — to be nice to everyone,” she said.
Her message in the end was simple: “We love you. We’re here for you. We stand with you.”
Steamboat police respond to local protest with solidarity
“I really feel like Steamboat is a great example of how to get your voice heard,” Steamboat Springs Police Chief Cory Christensen said. “That’s been my experience over several years and continues to be. And I appreciate that.”
There was little to no police presence during the protest with the exception of police vehicles and sheriff’s deputies driving along Lincoln Avenue in front of the courthouse. Still, Christensen had much to say about the impetus for the protest.
“I am outraged by the despicable behavior demonstrated in Minneapolis,” Christensen said. “Not only by the behavior of the one officer but by the lack of intervention by the other officers.”
Christensen said he and his department stand in solidarity with the protesters’ message.
What happened in the death of Floyd exposed a cultural failure on behalf of law enforcement, he explained.
“It’s inexcusable. Other officers were there that could have stopped it. That’s one of the cultural things we need to fix in law enforcement,” he said.
It’s Christensen’s expectation that his officers would stop other officers from doing things they’re not supposed to.
“They’re equally as guilty if you fail to act,” he said. “We have a duty to act.”
Christensen said he understands people are angry. There’s anger for the police departments around the country responsible for causing violence against people of color and that extends even into smaller cities such as Steamboat. He directed his officers to maintain professionalism and compassion for the anger that is expected to be displayed by citizens.
“I’m angry, as well,” he said. “That’s not behavior that would be tolerated here. We don’t get use-of-force complaints.”
So far, Christensen said he’s received many emails from local residents expressing their appreciation for Steamboat’s police department. He said he’s grateful for the citizens of Steamboat and how they express themselves.
To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.
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