Alaskans March In Anchorage To Support Justice For All

Supporters of justice for all march through downtown Anchorage
Supporters of justice for all march through downtown Anchorage

The shooting and choking deaths of unarmed black men that ended with no charges for the officers involved has ignited anger across the country over justice and fair treatment for all people. And in Anchorage on Saturday, a large group of residents took part in a march sponsored by the NAACP youth council that had a decidedly peaceful and hopeful tone, even as marchers chanted ‘hands up, don’t shoot.’

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Ashleigh Gaines is the Vice President of the NAACP Youth Council and was born and raised in Anchorage. As she walked along H Street, she said no one is sheltered from events such as the shooting in Ferguson of Michael Brown.

“As a young black woman, I just know to stay on my Ps and Qs and do what I am supposed to do. I just have to keep on, keep on and fight for what I believe in.” Gaines said.

The crowd was sprawling and diverse as participants carrying signs wound through downtown. Laura Avellaneda Cruz carried her infant girl. Her daughter’s father is Columbian. She says she feels pain for black families who worry about their children getting caught up in bad situations and can’t fathom having to worry every time her child leaves the house. She said she knows her daughter’s skin tone will make a difference.

Alaskans march peacefully through downtown Anchorage on Saturday afternoon to support equal justice for all.
Alaskans march peacefully through downtown Anchorage on Saturday afternoon to support equal justice for all.

“She didn’t get her father’s pigment, and that gave her a level of security and safety that a lot of mothers and fathers don’t have when they let their kids leave the house.”

Participants stressed there would be no violence in their march. Two officers stood in front of the federal building, but they looked relaxed and one waved and smiled as people passed.

Dexter Antoine moved to Alaska from Brooklyn in 1982 with the military. The 52 year old father and telephone lineman says he’s experienced institutional racism throughout his life but he believes things are changing.

“We’re not going through nothing that nobody else that has come before us went through and definitely not to the extent that it occurred before. There are people dying, yeah. That’s the struggle, that’s the life. But hopefully we won’t have to do this more often, over and over again and sooner or later, it won’t even be necessary.” He said.

Anchorage resident Cal Williams had the drum that kept the chants well timed. Williams moved to Alaska from Louisiana in 1965. Growing up there, he was involved with the Congress of Racial Equality or CORE and says his grandmother wanted him to get away from the civil rights fight in the south, but he arrived in Alaska and became a NAACP President here. He says he feels there is not enough recognition of the struggle for equality and some families have shielded their children from the past.

“In doing so, we set them up for major disappointments when indeed they are confronted with some ceiling that they can’t figure out why I can’t break through, because we’ve not prepared them for that which does exist, still, sadly, racism, sexism, homophobia, all these isms are still keeping us from working together for the collective good and when we deny any one person their full potential, we rob not only that person of that contribution but society from that contribution that person could have made.” Williams concluded.

NAACP first Vice President Kevin McGee says he’s glad there is a good working relationship with Anchorage Police Chief Mew for residents here. He says, going forward, Alaskans need to stand up, speak up and help kids, especially the ones having a hard time to stay in school.

“And they’re going to be the future leaders. So we need to do what we can, our organization and any other organizations that wish to join us, we’d like to start a mentorship program to help the young adults, juniors, seniors in high school, those that are having problems in school, we’d like to see if there’s anything we can do to help them, so they can graduate and move on to secondary schools and become the future leaders. So that’s something else we’re working on.”

Supporters of justice for all people gather in the NAACP parking lot after a march through downtown Anchorage
Supporters of justice for all people gather in the NAACP parking lot after a march through downtown Anchorage

Marchers made sure Alaska specific issues were not left out. The case of four young Native men who steadfastly claim innocence but are serving prison terms for the 1997 beating death of Fairbanks youth John Hartman were recognized on signs stating ‘Alaska stands with Ferguson and the Fairbanks Four’.

Holding one of those signs, long time Alaska Native activist Deesa Jacobson said Alaska can’t be the only state that stays silent. She says the world has been made aware of the problems within the United States.

“We’re out telling other countries how to use democracy and use their voice when so many voices are silenced by the government in our own country and it’s wrong and embarrassing. This is how democracy works. Everybody has the right to stand up and object to this.”

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori