Youth protest in Sebastopol against Daunte Wright’s killing
By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, April 19, 2021
Roughly 20 people gathered in front of the Westamerica Bank at the intersection of Main Street and Bodega Avenue late Friday afternoon, April 16, in Sebastopol. They gathered to protest the killing of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man fatally shot by police during a traffic stop on April 11 by then-police officer Kimberly Potter in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) Visibility Team organized the demonstration that ran from 4 until 6 p.m., attended by teenagers and some adults. The BLM Visibility Team is a Sebastopol-area group of mostly youth of color and some adults that joined together to mobilize actions in the small city over the summer as racial justice activism elevated across Sonoma County in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in late May, 2020.
According to the Washington Post’s database logging fatal police shootings since 2015, Daunte Wright is one of at least 52 Black individuals killed by police in 2021 so far. Organizers Dezi Rae Kai and Adanna Okiwelu said they’re experiencing the serious emotional toll of repeated injustice.
“I think for both of us, we are kind of just at a loss right now,” said Kai, a senior at Analy High School. She said they were used to protesting, “but I don’t know, right now it’s just been different for us.”
Okiwelu, a sophomore at Analy, said they feel the pressure as some of the few people of color in their community to sustain movement and speak out through the BLM Visibility Team’s social media in cases of police violence, but the pain is deeply personal.
“It’s hard. We definitely burned out,” Kai said, reflecting on the past year. “And it’s hard especially being in high school and having to feel like you need to change the world, but also you need to go take your math test.”
Educating largely white people in a predominantly white city, Kai said they’ve struggled to fully express the depth of their frustration and anger like they can in a community with other Black people.
Okiwelu added speaking openly can be frightening because being some of the few locals of color makes them more recognizable to both supporters and those who oppose the Black Lives Matter movement.
But the sophomore said they’ve also been able to show white people how to effectively support them since the George Floyd protests last summer.
More people are becoming vocal and standing up for Black people rather than waiting for someone else to step in, though many are still unwilling to engage in uncomfortable conversations, Kai said in an interview the day after the protest.
At Friday’s protest, she said just seeing the numerous Black Lives Matter signs in yards makes her feel better walking around her neighborhood. “It makes me feel like if something was happening to me, something is happening between me and the cops, maybe one of those people would come out of their houses and help me.”
Demonstrators speak on injustice, solidarity
“I’m here because I’m angry,” said Kira Rainwater, another Analy student, who uses they and them pronouns. “And I’m scared to go out. I was followed by three cops yesterday and I was just getting (Boba Tea).” Racial profiling is the reason they hate driving, Rainwater said.
“I’ve just tried to get in touch with more people of color who I can connect with. And I know all of our stories are different and we can’t relate every inch to one another’s story, but it’s helpful to have people like that,” they said. “And Sebastopol is such a small town, but it’s so racist. People don’t know that until they are part of that minority and feel that.”
Getting involved in activism has been a journey, being raised by an adoptive white family in Sebastopol, Rainwater said. While they feel more empowered to speak out, Rainwater said seeing the frequency of death is painful. “It’s frustrating because I feel like we’re doing all these protests and vigils and cops keep killing, so I don’t know.”
College student Elijah Molenkamp held a sign that said, “What will it take?” Progress doesn’t happen in an instant, he said, but the question stands how much death the country will take before people hold the justice system accountable for failing people.
“It would be wonderful if during police traffic stops, people didn’t have to die,” he said. A man in a passing car yelled, “Justice was served” shortly after, though for the most part the demonstration was awash in the supportive honking of passing drivers.
Molenkamp said he became involved in protests for George Floyd over the summer, learning how to engage in issues of racism as a white man by releasing shame about what he doesn’t know and asking questions, including of himself.
As a Jewish man, supporting local actions is a matter of solidarity, “showing up for other people in the same way you would want them to show up for you,” Molenkamp said. “Just as far as the psychology of it all, it’s important not to feel hopeless. People become apathetic when there isn’t any action and often there is action in local communities if you know where to find it.”
Todd Swindell, 48, Kai’s uncle, stood at the corner’s edge for the majority of the protest, lifting a sign that said “Say Their Names” for Daunte Wright and Andy Lopez, a 13-year-old Latino boy fatally shot by Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy Erick Gelhaus in 2013, for passing drivers to see.
As a gay man with roughly a decade of AIDS activism with ACT UP San Francisco behind him, he said, “I know about fighting for my rights.”
Swindell, who is white, said he came to understand through ACT UP that there’s power in solidarity, whether or not an issue affects an individual directly. “You were still fighting for your lives, and the sense that, because you’re safe, you’re okay — it doesn’t work that way. As we’re seeing with COVID, we are interdependent. What happens to the least of us happens to all of us, so it’s about what kind of society do you want to live in,” Swindell said.
Duncans Mills resident Ishi Woods said his middle school-age daughter brought him out to the protest, working on his cardboard sign with a pink marker. A major issue he sees in the west county is a low capacity for the discomfort that inevitably arises from conversations about privilege among people resting on the region’s progressive reputation.
“On the larger issue of race inequality, what I notice is one of the differences between the culture of racism in an alternative community versus the blatant racism you might stereotypically think of in the South is that it’s very dangerous for a group of people to think they have moved beyond racism,” he said.
Woods said people see a Black man when they see him, and that an issue he has living in the west county community is that some people think they couldn’t possibly be racist and lack the introspection to catch their own behaviors that contribute to issues of inequality.
“It seems like we have more resources to deal with it and in some ways, there can be a lot of inaction. People can get so comfortable that, a couple of hard questions and they need a therapy session,” he said on what he described as a low tolerance for stress in privileged west county communities, despite having the resources and free time to engage politically.
In her April 17 interview, Kai said what grounds and inspires her activism these days is the vision of creating change for herself, her family and friends and any children she might ever bring into this world. Even when it feels like differences aren’t being made “like nothing is happening, there are small changes happening every single day,” she said.
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