Protests

Jenelle Figgins addresses demonstrators during a Black Lives Matter protest in Aspen on Sunday. Two more demonstrations are planned for this weekend, at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Two protests in support of Black Lives Matter will be held on Saturday and Sunday beginning at 10 a.m. in Wagner Park.

The local movement is part of the outcry throughout the country to bring justice to George Floyd and other black Americans killed while in police custody. The gatherings will include speeches, meditations and a march to Main Street, culminating in a lay-in back at Wagner Park.

This will be the third demonstration organized by Aspenite Jenelle Figgins, a company dancer for the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. Each event has drawn exponentially bigger crowds of support. Organizers will be handing out informational resources, including places to donate and a list of black-owned businesses to support.

Figgins said whether or not people are able to attend the gathering, the most important thing is for the community to be asking themselves the hard questions about race relations in America.

“If you can't come out this weekend that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything,” she said. “Educate yourself, look inside your heart, question the things that you’ve known.”

She encouraged locals and visitors to reach out to their local officials to demand that they help stop police brutality.

In a news release sent out Thursday, Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor expressed his support for the assembly.

“As professionals and individuals, all of us in the department recognize that the institutional racism that exists is not to be tolerated and that systemic changes need to be made nationwide,” Pryor said.

The release requests that demonstrators adhere to public health orders in place to curb the transmission of COVID-19, including wearing masks and maintaining a six-foot distance from others.

A letter to the community from the city council, city manager and police department published Wednesday vowed action against police brutality of black people.

“We recognize that systemic racism in our country has resulted in the needless deaths of black individuals and it must end,” it reads. “Specifically, we want to say to all black individuals who live or visit here, we are your allies. To that end, we will work hard to encourage and pass legislation that supports anti-racist policies and be inclusive in our policymaking.”

Mayor Torre said the statement was a reaction to the local demonstrations that have taken place since Floyd’s death.

“We highly value freedom of speech and the right to assemble in our community,” he said. “We are trying to be communicative that they are being heard. And that we share the same concerns when we talk about systemic racism and when we talk about inequality.”

Reverend Jerry Herships of the Aspen Community Church spoke at the protest held last Sunday. As part of the demonstration, members of the crowd lay face down on the ground — in the position in which Floyd was killed — for the length of time he was held down and suffocated by a white police officer.

“That was heavy,” Herships said. “You don’t realize how long eight minutes and 46 seconds is until you lay on your stomach for that long. And I didn’t have a knee on my neck.”

Herships acknowledged that Aspen has little diversity; under 3% of the population is black. But as videos show the fatal circumstances that Floyd and other black citizens have suffered under the hands of police, Aspenites can no longer act as if they have not witnessed injustice in America.

“It's the job of all of us to work toward a more just humanity and a more just society. And to recognize, especially in a community like Aspen which has far more allies than a black community, that we are going to do it wrong,” Herships said.

He quoted former Aspen notable Hunter S. Thompson in encouraging the community to go all in when it comes to standing up against racism.

“We are going to be uncomfortable no matter what we do, and that’s part of being an aspirational ally,” Herships said. “I’m going to read things that are going to make me uncomfortable, and hear things that are going to make me uncomfortable. To quote one of our residents, ‘You bought the ticket, take the ride.’ It comes with the gig, man. You’ve got to know that if you are going to fight for something like this it’s not going to be sugarcoated unicorns all the time, it’s gonna be really hard.”

He said public support for the Black Lives Matter movement — such as being present during this weekend’s rallies — are one way, of many, that the non-black community can show its support.

“One of the ways you can be an aspirational ally is to lend your voice, and your legs, and your money, and your time and everything else to causes like this,” Herships said.

He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King’s rhetoric that the moral compass of the universe bends toward justice. While he said he thinks that’s true, he said it isn’t bending fast enough.

“Truth be told, we are nowhere near where we need to be,” Herships said. “That’s not just the job of the black community. That’s the job of humanity, to fight an injustice when you see it.”

Alycin Bektesh is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at Alycin@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @alycinwonder.