Nome community members gathered on a chilly June night to show support for their local Black community and peacefully marched to protest police brutality against Black Americans.
KNOM’s Emily Hofstaedter has more from Nome’s march for Black Lives Matter.
On Wednesday night, Andrea Irrigoo of Nome led a crowd of nearly 200 people down Bering Street from City Hall in Nome to the Nome Public Safety Building, the home of the Nome Police Department.
Multiple organizers worked to plan the march of solidarity and make the protest a reality. One of them was Addy Akłaasiaq Ahmasuk, an Alaska Native woman from Nome. Ahmasuk admitted that she will never know what it is like to be Black in America, but she says black and brown people both know what it’s like to live in a space that isn’t intended for them.
“And this is where I recognize the strength and ties of our Black and Native ancestry, not in the pain of enslavement or genocide, but in the beauty of resemblance. White people have no idea what it feels like to see someone who looks like you and talks like you in a position of leadership and power that’s recognized by Western society.”– Addy Ahmasuk
Ahmasuk went on to explain that racism has been going on since colonization, and she emphasized how Black people have been disproportionately affected by police brutality.
“When we stand up in Nome for Black Lives Matter, we are continuing to make a safe space and protection for every person harmed by police, and to hold the system accountable because Black lives matter.”– Addy Ahmasuk
For Jennifer Johnson, a Black and white bi-racial woman who lives in Nome, now is the time to fight against systemic racism.
“I’m tired, but not the kind of tired that has me throwing in the towel and sitting on the sidelines. I’m the Rosa Parks kind of tired that has me planted in my convictions, immovable in the name of justice.”– Jennifer Johnson
Additionally, there were other marchers, like Valerie Dull, who marched for Black lives because they recognized that police brutality isn’t limited to the Lower ’48. It’s a problem seen in Alaska and even in Nome. Dull mentioned Florence Habros, a Nome woman who was punched by a community service officer (CSO) when he took her to the hospital. The CSO, Carl Putman, was fired and plead guilty to the assault in court. He received a suspended imposition of sentence and no jail time. One month later, he was rehired as a dispatcher, sparking outrage from community members.
Before the marchers embarked from City Hall Wednesday night, Nome’s Darlene Trigg laid out some expectations.
“We recognize this to be a peaceful opportunity to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. We agree that this is a multi-racial group who acknowledges the injustices that Black people experience in the United States.”– Darlene Trigg
The crowd walked about a mile to Nome’s police station. All but a small handful of people wore masks, and march organizers handed out extras to those who were without. The Nome police were not present for any part of the march or speeches.
Gathered in the parking lot of the public safety building, the group stood in a circle and knelt in honor of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who was declared dead at the hospital after a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. Derek Chauvin, the officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck, was fired and now faces multiple charges, including murder in the second degree.
Then, the Nome group chanted the names of Black people who died, or were killed, in police custody.
But many in the crowd also knew the pain of police brutality and institutionalized racism, so then they spoke the names from their own community who have been lost:
The crowd dispersed full of both tears and smiles. It was bittersweet moment for people like Raynard Upson, a Black man and Nome resident.
Upson: It makes me feel very good, [it’s] inspirational, just [need to] keep pushing and basically just keep up the fight. Don’t stop the fight.
KNOM: Do you feel supported in a community like Nome?
Upson: Yes. With events like this, yes, of course.
Image at top: A collection of Nome citizens march in solidarity for Black Lives Matter. Photo from JoJo Phillips, KNOM. (2020)