Protests

Sajari Simmons speaks at Wagner Park on Sunday to those who gathered to participate in a protest and march in the wake of the recent death of George Floyd as well as other black individuals nationwide whose lives were lost as a result of police action.

Organizers of the Aspen protests spurred by the recent death of George Floyd and other black men and women who died as a result of police action held their fourth event in eight days on Sunday, drawing more than 400 participants who carried signs, shouted slogans and marched along Main Street to draw attention to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Abbey Corcoran spoke during the high-energy event as it got underway at Wagner Park. Attendance was estimated to be stronger on Sunday than at the three preceding gatherings that were held on May 31, Wednesday and Saturday.

“Every police officer — whether or not they commit heinous acts of violence themselves — stand by and watch as their colleagues kneel on people’s necks,” Corcoran said, drawing cheers. “That is called the ‘bystander effect.’ Police are only held accountable internally. That is why police officers are not held accountable.”

She said she didn’t want to hear responses defending police. “‘My husband’s a police officer’ or ‘my neighbor’s a police officer, he’s good.’ I’m not interested in that,” Corcoran said, followed by a comment from someone in the crowd who attempted to speak up on behalf of law enforcement.

“Ma’am are you listening to the history that I’m telling you right now? …Let’s have a conversation after this, and I will share some history with you. This is clearly not enough. I challenge you to educate yourself,” Corcoran continued.

“This is something that comes from ignorance and fear,” she added. “Fear that people of color will have access to the same things that the wealthy elites have in Aspen.”

The exchange was one of the few intense moments during the peaceful demonstration. An Aspen police officer who stood nearby said the crowds have been well-behaved during all four gatherings.

Signs carried by protesters included messages such as “Defund the Police,” “Cops and Klan, Hand in Hand,” “Racism is a Pandemic” and “Your Racism is Not Welcome Here.” Organizers also passed out information to participants that listed “tasks that white people (or anyone really) can perform to support the cause of anti-racism.” The suggested actions ranged from donating to organizations that perform anti-racism work to reading books about structural racism in the U.S to purchasing items from black-owned businesses in the area.

Prior to the march through downtown and along Main Street, one of the event organizers, Jenelle Figgins, introduced Sajari Simmons, who led a moment of silence to remember dozens of black men and women who, like Floyd, have died as a result of police measures.

The soft-spoken Simmons thanked the crowd for its support of Roaring Fork Show Up, an organization she and Figgins have co-founded. Information about the group’s events as well as systemic racism can be obtained by emailing a request to roaringforkshowup@gmail.com. They are developing a website and social-media channels as well.

“I also want to say that I really appreciate the vulnerability of those who have been silenced and who have come up to me … and had to relive the same trauma that they’ve been reliving every time they’ve tried to speak up when they are silenced,” Simmons said. “I’m hoping that this will be the last time they have to tell that story.”

She paused.

“I love you all, infinite blessings,” Simmons added.

Figgins called for a moment of silence to remember those who died at the hands of police. She recalled dozens of individuals, names that are commonly associated with the Black Lives Matter movement: “…Justice for Mya Hall. Justice for Phillip White. Justice for Eric Harris. Justice for Walter Scott…”

From there, the assembled moved on through the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall, chanting and waving signs. They turned at Galena Street and marched down Main Street before returning to Wagner Park. The event concluded in the park with an exercise that aimed to demonstrate how the protesters themselves enjoyed a level of privilege not common to victims of racism.

Later on Sunday, Simmons reached out to the Aspen Daily News to discuss how many members of the media, local and otherwise, have missed the point of the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“It’s important to note that this is a problem at large,” she wrote. “Systematic racism is not simply an article about protests. It is not simply about George Floyd or one black life facing deadly police brutality. And it certainly isn’t about glorifying that white people are ‘helping.’ It is not simple.”

Simmons said numerous uncomfortable conversations need to occur in order to effect long-term change.

“These conversations should not diminish the voice of black people while claiming to amplify them. Reprogramming the belief system that encourages the oppression of black people is a necessary and vital step toward true social justice. If you have experienced white privilege, take accountability for your benefits that have fueled the oppression of black people,” she wrote.

Simmons said it’s inappropriate for white people to “piggyback off of the momentum of the black population fed up after 450-plus years” of systemic racism. It’s time to show up, she wrote, beyond the protests, donations and social media postings.

“There is interpersonal work that must be done globally!” she added. “We appreciate the acknowledgement of systemic racism but now it is imperative that you discover how you will tangibly dismantle that within health care, equity, government, arts and education.”

The organizers are planning to conduct another local gathering next weekend.

🎧 The Upload - June 5, 2020

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.