Residents of the Central Peninsula on Wednesday joined the worldwide Black Lives Matters protests spurred by the death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man who died in police custody.
The protest, which was held at Soldotna Creek Park, called for an end to racial discrimination in the criminal justice system and called for justice for Floyd. Similar protests have taken place in Homer, Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks, Sitka, Bethel, Kotzebue and other communities across the state.
The protest drew about 50 participants to Soldotna Creek Park, where the first Wednesday Market of the summer was also taking place.
Spencer Crawford, who organized Wednesday’s protest, said that it was important for as many people as possible to see the movement, even in a relatively small community like Soldotna.
“Just because it’s not a problem here doesn’t mean it’s not a problem,” Crawford said. “All of us as a country, as American citizens, we need to come together to make this country better when it comes to racial injustice.”
Attendee Hope Wright said that she had come out to the event on behalf of her two half-sisters, who she said faced discrimination at school.
“When they joined Nikiski-Middle High School they got chased out, because kids were calling them the N-word and told them they had nasty, nappy hair,” Wright said. “This was last year.”
Dianne Nasibog and her family moved to Alaska from the Philippines when she was 6. Now, at 16, Nasibog said she’s witnessed racism while attending Soldotna High School and has even experienced some of it herself.
“I remember a few years ago my mom and I were at the Safeway in Soldotna, and we lived in Nikiski at the time,” Nasibog said. “My mom was talking to me in our language, Bisaya, and some guy screams at her to speak English. It’s like, sorry you’re monolingual, that’s your problem not ours.”
After the protesters had gathered at Soldotna Creek Park, they made their way down to the “Y” intersection where the Sterling Highway meets Kenai Spur. The crowd separated into four groups and continued to chant “Black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe” and “Justice for George Floyd.”
The gathering was one of many protests that broke out across the country and the world in response to a video that showed a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, with his knee on the neck of Floyd, a black man in his 40s. Floyd died while in Chauvin’s custody. Protesters have hit the streets since May 25 demanding that Chauvin and the three other officers involved in Floyd’s death be held accountable.
Chauvin was eventually arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. On Wednesday Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that Chauvin would be charged with second-degree unintentional murder in addition to the previous charges. The other three officers involved — Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J Alexander Kueng — have also been arrested and charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder as well as aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Violence by police officers and looting by protesters was reported at many of the larger protests, but Soldotna’s event remained peaceful despite some people vocalizing their opposition.
Police presence at the Soldotna protest was minimal — a Soldotna police officer could be seen patrolling Soldotna Creek Park, and a squad car was parked across the street.
Basil Alsouqi was visiting Soldotna from Las Vegas. While watching the protesters he said that it was a lot different than what he’s been seeing back home.
“It’s a lot tamer, calmer,” Alsouqi said. “They are voicing their opinions, but they’re not being destructive.”
During the protest, a few passersby shouted “All lives matter!” Or “Go home!”
One man, who asked to be referred to as “E Frog,” stood next to the protesters on the Sterling Highway, filming the group and shouting “Go back to Anchorage!”
“I don’t recognize them,” E Frog said. “I was born and raised here and I don’t know these people.”
All of the protesters interviewed by the Clarion said that they were residents of the Kenai Peninsula, and many were students at the local high schools.