By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
For 8 minutes, 46 seconds protesters jogged in place outside of Birmingham’s Legion Field on Saturday to rally against police brutality. That’s how long it took for George Floyd, a Minneapolis man, to lose consciousness and die after a police officer knelt on his neck two weeks ago.
A diverse crowd of more than 300 people gathered for the peaceful rally and at one point jogged in place for nearly nine minutes screaming “I Can’t Breathe!” among Floyd’s last words.
It was one of several recent protests across the Birmingham metro area that included those in Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills and Hoover – largely white communities.
Xsuela Douglas, a member of Listen, the local group that sponsored the rally, said it was empowering to see the mixed crowd at Legion Field.
“It just shows that this is an issue that is seen by a lot of people and [racism and police brutality] needs to be addressed,” she said. “We have people from every different background coming together sponsoring us and advocating for us, many people notice that this is even more of a problem than we think it is.”
“It’s beautiful to see everybody coming together for this cause and it makes me hopeful in the fact that so many different people are coming together that a change could actually happen — and it needs to happen,” she said.
Jaselle Houghtlin, another member of Listen, said, “We’re out here to protest the injustice on our fellow black men and women. We want equality for every black person, and we’re tired of the injustice. Stop police brutality and view us as the person you would next to you.”
Dre Smith, of Listen, said the hate against black people needs to stop.
“I am extremely tired of seeing my brothers walk on these streets scared for their lives, not only of the police but of regular, ordinary people of different skin color,” said Smith. “We have been going through this for over 400 years… Your skin color doesn’t matter, where you come from doesn’t matter, how you treat another person should. How you carry that person up and make him be better than he was yesterday, does!”
He talked about holding accountable elected officials and those in power and the importance of voting to make change happen.
“I have to teach my sons rules to a game that should not exist, but it does for the people of my skin color . . . If you go and vote, tell them this is enough, let your elected officials know this is it. You must start giving people equal amount of rights and cannot judge people on their skin color, what they wear, how they act, it is not cool.”
Luciana Guin, of Birmingham, one of the protesters, said blacks are still facing the same problems since Los Angeles police officers were videotaped beating Rodney King in 1991 that sparked riots.
“There is still that sense of anxiety that I have as a black woman when I get stopped or pulled over or something happens and I’m faced with the possibility . . . I don’t know what is going to happen. What I’ve learned over this past week is to have conversations with my multicultural friends because they don’t know that it is happening to [black] people that they come into contact with.”
The organizers at Legion Field also came with a list of demands, including “ending the war on black people,” said Douglas, “because at the end of the day this is a war that we are fighting.”
She continued, “Using a past criminal record to dictate voting rights, voting rights should be for everyone equally regardless of your criminal history. Ceasing mass surveillance in the black community, we should not have more police officers in our communities because it is a set up.”
Other demands, from the group, include the immediate release without charges of all arrested protestors during nonviolent protests over the last two weeks, disciplinary action and termination be taken against all police officers who violently attacked peaceful protestors, a meeting with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, the rightful conviction of the officer’s charged in Floyd’s death and the immediate termination of Birmingham’s current protest abolition laws.