From Kotzebue to Ketchikan, Alaskans protested the killing of George Floyd, calling for justice

About 250 people gathered for a public “I Can’t Breathe” rally protesting the death of a black man, George Floyd, who was killed after a white officer pressed a knee into his neck while taking him into custody in Minnesota. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Across the state this week, in cities and small towns, Alaskans peacefully protested the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis on Memorial Day after a white police officer pinned him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck. In a widely-shared video, Floyd can be heard saying “I can’t breathe.”

Four Minnesota Police officers were initially fired one day after Floyd’s death. One officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested and charged with murder. Since then, nightly demonstrations, some of which have turned violent, filled streets in cities across the country. The other three officers involved have since been arrested and charged. Across the globe, protests continue.

Since last Saturday, Alaskans from Kotzebue to Ketchikan have joined other communities in the call for an end to police brutality. Many also had signs calling out acts of institutional and systemic racism. Here’s a look at how protests took shape across the state:

Hundreds of Alaskans joined marches and rallies in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.

Nykia Johnson, JD Conley, and Zakia Thornton attend the “I Can’t Breathe Rally” in Anchorage on May 29, 2020 (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

“I’m fed up. I’m fighting against the police brutality. We got to stand together. If we don’t come together who’s gonna stop it?” said Zakia Thornton at the “I Can’t Breathe” rally in Anchorage.

About 250 people gathered for a public “I Can’t Breathe” rally protesting the death of a black man, George Floyd, who was killed after a white officer pressed a knee into his neck while taking him into custody in Minnesota. People held signs decrying violence against black people and calling out institutional racism, many supporting the Black Lives Matter movement on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

In Juneau, chants of “Silence is violence” and “If you see something say something” urged white protestors and allies of the Black Lives Matter movement to take tangible steps toward preventing violence against black people.

Above the Arctic Circle, Alaskans in Kotzebue marched with signs that read “#blacklivesmatter” and “I Can’t Breathe.”

Organizers of the protest come together after marching through Kotzebue on June 2, 2020 (Photo by Berett Wilber/KOTZ)

“I was surprised. I even told Camille, because it was so last minute, I even told Camille, ‘If it’s just you and I, we’re going to walk,’” said Stepheena Smith who helped organize the event in Kotzebue.

Sitkans gathered to honor George Floyd in Southeast Alaska. They had a moment of silence and sang traditional Tlingit songs.

Louise Brady and Dionne Brady-Howard led a group in singing two Tlingit songs- Aakwtaatseen, followed by Xwaal’, the Peace Hat Song on June 1, 2020 (Katherine Rose/KCAW)

“These are really heartbreaking times that we’re living in right now, and I really would like to thank the organizers for putting this together because I think sometimes it’s really difficult if we don’t have an outlet for all this pain. I think with the turnout and all the people here we can see that there’s a lot of people who care,” Louise Brady said at the event in Sitka.

In Bethel, Alaskans marched in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement has resonated with residents, who are predominantly Alaska Native, another group familiar with inequities in law enforcement.

Community members marched from the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center to Watson’s Corner and back in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Bethel, Alaska on June 2, 2020. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

“I mean, it’s great that everyone’s coming together to try to make a change, but I’ve seen this a lot,” said Garry Howard at the event in Bethel. “Hoping for a change, but we’ll see.”

Alaskans protested racism and police brutality at a busy Ketchikan intersection. 

From left to right, Audrey Daniels, Isabel Morris and Rosie Daniels were among a handful of protesters demonstrating at the corner of Tongass Avenue and Jefferson Street June 3, 2020 (Eric Stone/KRBD)

“It just makes me feel uncomfortable to live in this town, because this is a Native town and we have racist people like that here and it just doesn’t make sense,” said teenager Rosie Daniels of motorists who flipped her off or displayed a thumbs down at the event in Ketchikan.

A small group gathered at the main intersection in downtown Kodiak. “End our silence stop the violence,” read one sign. Another said: “Black lives matter.”

Ron Jackson holds a sign in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in downtown Kodiak on May 31, 2020 (Photo by Kavitha George/KMXT)

“I think that a lot of the issues that we’re facing now are not issues that we see here. So maybe Kodiak doesn’t know how to respond to those types of movements. Kodiak can respond to climate change because it directly affects us. Kodiak can respond to Pebble Mine because it directly affects us. And so I think that what doesn’t affect us, we’re not quite so sure how to respond to,” said Tyler Barnes at the event in Kodiak.

Vigils for George Floyd in the Southeast communities of Haines and Skagway sparked conversations about racism.

Haines residents gather at the Fort Seward parade grounds for a vigil in memory of George Floyd on June 1, 2020 (Photo by Henry Leasia)

“Half of me feels safe up here in a weird way like we’re very sheltered from what’s going on in the Lower 48, just as far as the violence and the intense police state, but I also feel very guilty for not being there,” said Megan Mcgrail, one of the event organizers in Haines.

There have been more demonstrations too. On social media, Alaskans have posted about marches and rallies in communities including Unalakleet and Soldotna.

While Alaska’s rallies and protests have remained peaceful some Alaskans have reported instances of intimidation, backlash or resistance. More demonstrations are planned for this weekend.

Send photos of the demonstrations in your Alaska communities to news@alaskapublic.org.