United For Change event makes voices heard
Dodge City landmark El Capitan became a platform last weekend for members of the community who came together in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against police brutality.
The United for Change event took place Saturday, with people gathering, signs in hand, to listen to messages from United For Change organizers, along with words from Dodge City Mayor Joyce Warshaw and Dodge City Police Chief Drew Francis.
People in the crowd spoke against police brutality and systemic racism, and of their anger toward a broken system that allows it.
Families were also present with their children.
“Black families have to teach their children when very young about racial issues to protect (them), and so my kids are not too young to learn about racial issues,” said a woman attending the protest with her two children. “It’s important they grow up understanding and having compassion for anyone in their lives, and it’s important they understand the struggles of others in the world, so they’re aware of it, so that they can make the change among their friends as well.”
Black Lives Matter protests have been prominent in communities across the U.S. and internationally since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a black man, while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
“When a black man can walk out of his house without looking behind him, then all lives will start to matter the most,” said a Black Lives Matter activist. “When they stop getting shot at for jogging and when people stop thinking they’re going to break into their house, that’s when all lives will matter the most.
“For me it’s about hope, strength and prosperity.”
Another attendee, Ed Ferrell, spoke about why he attended the event.
“I’m here because black lives do matter,” Ferrell said. “I’m a black man staying in Midwest Kansas, and for a black man that’s not always the best thing to be going through sometimes.
“We’re out here right now, everyone’s on one accord for Black Lives Matter, it’s a beautiful thing.”
As the area around El Capitan began to fill with people who were offered sunscreen and water by organizers, lead coordinator of the event Alejandro Rangel-Lopez, took a microphone and spoke to them.
He reminding attendees they were not going to march to the police station, as was being spread across social media platforms, but that they would remain where they were for the safety of citizens and law enforcement officers in attendance.
Rangel-Lopez, encouraged the crowd to join him in taking eight deep breaths representing the eight minutes in which Floyd was held down beneath the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has been charged with second-degree murder tied to Floyd’s death.
He compares the intersection that El Capitan sits near to that of the divisiveness between change and inaction when it comes to the topic of police brutality and systemic racism affecting daily lives.
Rangel-Lopez used El Capitan to reference Dodge City’s past as a cattle town, and how back in the 1800s, black cowboys' achievements were overshadowed. He noted that behavior has been embedded into U.S. history, which has often whitewashed the achievements of black people.
“The systems in place and the resultant sufferings of black and brown bodies are not a mistake,” said Rangel-Lopez. “They are working exactly as they were designed.
“That’s how systemic racism works. Like a virus, it infects every aspect of life, from education, work, healthcare, to buying a pack of cigarettes at a deli, which is what George Floyd was attempting to do that day, and like a virus, it will continue to keep spreading until we do something about it.”
He said these issues must be tackled at the front lines and at the community level by educating people on issues that others are facing that they haven’t experienced themselves.
“I don’t want to see another George Floyd, I don’t want to see another Breonna Taylor,” said Rangel-Lopez. “Change starts with us. "We are standing together today, not as black people, not as Latino people, Asian people, or white people, but as justice-seekers.
“We stand together to mourn, but also to flourish and write the next chapter of our nation’s history; free from police brutality, systemic racism, and inequality.”
Breonna Taylor, a black woman, was fatally shot by police in her Louisville, Ky., home in March.
Rangel-Lopez urged people to remember the police are not the true enemies of the public, but that the Civil Rights Movement did not end with the Civil Rights Act and will not be over until there is true racial equality.
In speaking to the crowd, Mayor Joyce Warshaw commended the youths of Dodge City for putting together the peaceful event.
“I love seeing young people so involved in their community,” Warshaw said.
Warshaw said that for many years Dodge City has been dedicated to recognizing, honoring and embracing the diversity present in the community and that it is up to the community to recognize progressive changes, no matter how arduous they are, to continue to move Dodge City forward.
Warshaw encouraged residents to exercise their right to peacefully assemble and to be more involved in city government, telling them to continue to meet with city officials and work with them to advocate for the improvements they want to see.
“Always remain kind to one another, that will change the world, and remember all lives matter,” she said.
Miller Elementary School teacher Kierra Johnson spoke next.
“All lives don’t matter, because black lives don’t matter,” Johnson said. “When we say ’black lives matter,’ we don’t just mean black lives only.
“We need your help, we need your support, we need you all to come together to support us.”
Johnson stressed that looting and rioting is not the appropriate course of action.
She said a society is a team all working together and that if the men and women defending the country — from all different backgrounds — can stand together, then so can the rest of society.
Johnson said it's important that people understand not all police are bad.
“No occupation on earth makes you a bad person, but a bad person that is in power can make any occupation look bad,” said Johnson. “Brothers and sisters from all walks of life, I ask you to search your soul, find that love, and let us walk hand in hand, and let us be a positive force for a change — a force so powerful that it cannot be torn apart by the actions of evil.”
Another organizer of the event, Rileigh Heeke, touched on how white citizens could best utilize their privilege when they witness racial injustice.
“Being here’s important, but there’s still so many more steps that are necessary to take in order to prove that our allyship is more than just a social media hashtag,” said Heeke.
Heeke encouraged those in a place of privilege to confront their own racial biases within themselves and others, even if it’s their own family and friends, and that while it may be uncomfortable and may cause, problems, that leaving those biases unchecked will only perpetrate more racial divide.
“Use your privilege to spread the word and educate,” said Heeke. “Sometimes, the only way people will listen is if it is being spoken by someone that they identify with.”
Arden Ingram, another organizer, said the Constitution was written with the idea that only those in the castes of financial, gender, and racial superiority were to prosper the most — rich white men.
Ingram asserted that the earliest formations of the American police force were created with the idea of strict monitoring of and executing punishment on minorities with the intent of racial prejudice.
“So if you think for a second that racism isn’t engraved into the very structure of America, then you are sorely mistaken,” Ingram said.
Ingram said that when she says “black lives matter,” she is not excluding or demeaning the lives of non-black people and that she is speaking on behalf of much-needed reform in a country that supports the radicalized ideology of the police, that they can invade the wrong homes and kill their occupants, as was the case with Breonna Taylor, or violently assault peaceful protesters.
“ ’All lives matter’ is not a more inclusive representation, it is drowning out our cries for help,” Ingram said.
Ingram called the “all lives matter” response a practice of “selective inclusivity.”
Ingram said she almost did not speak at the event for fear that she, a black LGBTQ youth, could be a casualty of violent hate, but she did so because it is her duty to make her voice heard for others. She said that if people exclude the black LGBTQ community, it is a dehumanizing step backwards and does more harm to the Black Lives Matter movement than good.
“Silence is complacency,” said Ingram as she urged people to come together and make America better.
Rangel-Lopez said, “In planning this event, we wanted to show solidarity for not just the black community, but also assure we have the support of the Dodge City Police Department.”
Rangel-Lopez commended the DCPD for their work before introducing Police Chief Drew Francis, who spoke about the measures the department takes in its hiring process in an attempt to prevent incidents of police brutality.
Francis said DCPD is a neutral and nonpartisan force not motivated by personal politics.
He spoke on behalf of all law enforcement officers, saying a majority of them across the country did not condone the violence inflicted upon George Floyd.
“Policing is not an easy job by any stretch,” said Francis. “But it’s an honorable and noble one.
“Something not only officers can be proud of, but communities can too, when we have officers — good officers — who have got into this job for the right reasons and remember those reasons, when they hit the streets every day.”
Rangel-Lopez, then asked the crowd to join him in kneeling down for eight minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd, after which he reminded people that they were gathered there to spread awareness and that it did not stop after they left. He also reminded people of the voter registration tables that were at the event.
“United For Change doesn’t end here,” he said. “We are creating a youth-led organization in Dodge City to advance social justice issues and address any shortcomings we see in our community by pushing for policy that helps protect our minority community from discrimination, protects LGBT individuals in our community, and any other issues we see fit,” said Rangel-Lopez.
He encouraged people to remain involved with their organization and to visit its United For Change Facebook page. Rangel-Lopez invited anyone else in the crowd from the black community to speak. Several individuals voiced support for the Dodge City Police Department and gratitude for all those rallying together to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Many people told the crowd that the activism must continue and that it is a group effort.
“It starts with teaching your children,” one woman said. “I’m about to have a baby myself and it starts with me teaching my baby his rights, with me teaching my baby that he is allowed to live in America without fear for his skin color.”
Staff writer Vincent Marshall contributed to this report.