WASHINGTON — They were old and young, black and white, and they all wanted to make one thing clear: The fight against racism inside and outside of law enforcement won’t end in 2015.
Nearly 100 people gathered at the Westfield Wheaton Mall to stage a New Year’s Day demonstration and “die-in” to spotlight the problems that sparked violence after the shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. They held signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and after the gathering inside, left the mall chanting “No Justice, No Peace!”
Ken Buckner, marketing director at Westfield Wheaton, said the group had approached the mall ahead of time and were granted permission for an orderly demonstration. A number of Montgomery County police officers were in the mall during the event, but kept a low profile — hanging back from the roped-off demonstration area and assisting with traffic flow outside when protesters crossed the street and headed to the nearby Metro station.
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One protester, who identified herself as Mrs. Copeland, cradled her toddler son and explained that people of color face racism every day, in ways big and small. Addressing a white reporter, she said, “You can go into a store, and you’re not going to be followed just because of the color of your skin. My son will go in a store, he’ll be followed, he’ll be harassed. Yours? They’ll be asked ‘Can I help you?’ It’s not fair.” Ericka Njeumi and Delman Kaiser, high school juniors at Hubert Blake High School in Montgomery County, say it can be hard for their classmates who aren’t African-American to see racism. Kaiser said classmates can reveal an insensitivity to race on social media, and it’s both surprising and hurtful.
“They post things that you never would have thought they believed.”
Kaiser says that’s when he realized how insidious bias is, and how he hopes this and similar protests can bridge a gap and generate conversations. He says it’s clear many people are sheltered from the ugliness of racism.
“They never even thought about problems like these before.”
Elizabeth Lakew, a Howard University student, and Mariam Jiffar, a Montgomery Blair High school student, organized the protest.
ABC7 reports that one person was arrested — activist Erika Totten, who police say was charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. Protesters complained that she was not read her Miranda rights; the police told ABC7 that that wasn’t necessary because she was not held for questioning or held indefinitely.
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