Global protests continue as communities rally against the police killing of George Floyd — and countless other black Americans before him.
In Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau this weekend, hundreds of Alaskans turned out in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, peacefully protesting against institutional racism and injustice. Kodiak joined in on Sunday with a small gathering of five community members.
When Kari Millstein woke up on Sunday, she says she just had to do something. She had been following the protests in Minneapolis, and decided that despite being on a remote island thousands of miles away, she needed to speak out against the “unchecked violence” against black people in America.
She says in Kodiak, it can be easy for people to look the other way.
“I think it’s easy for people to stay home. And no matter what they believe, just kind of keep it to themselves and not really make it known because they feel like this community is so isolated from the rest of the country that it doesn’t really matter what we say.”
Millstein gathered a small group of friends and headed out to the main intersection in downtown Kodiak Sunday afternoon, holding a sign that said “End our silence / Stop the violence.” The response was mostly positive — drivers honked and waved in support. But a handful of passerby shook their heads in disagreement, and a few gave the middle finger.
Ron Jackson, a tattoo artist in Kodiak says the small negative response is frustrating.
“Because there’s nothing negative on any of our signs,” he said. “They’re literally saying that obviously, Black Lives Matter, that human lives matter. How can you argue with that, that these people are human beings that deserve the utmost love and respect. And to argue against that, it’s just so confusing to me.”
Jackson says it can be difficult to see the impacts of systemic police violence in a town where officers generally have a good relationship with the community.
“It’s the constant interaction. I tattoo the police officers, I’ve tattooed the police chief, I’ve tattooed the last police chief, like, you’re gonna see them in Safeway, you know. So no matter what job you have, you’re gonna encounter them on a personal level. And that’s something that we benefit from here, but does also kind of hinder our worldview.”
Kodiak has had experience with police brutality in the past. In 2018, the city of Kodiak settled a lawsuit with the family of an autistic Alaska Native man after police forcibly detained and pepper sprayed the man at close range.
Jackson says he would like to see police held more accountable in incidents like these. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was filmed pressing his knee into George Floyd’s neck on May 25 until the unarmed, handcuffed man suffocated. It took four days for Chauvin to be charged with murder and arrested.
“If either of us had done what just happened, we would have been taken into custody immediately, not four days later,” Jackson said. “He did not get taken into custody right away, which is insane.”
Tyler Barnes is an elementary school teacher in Kodiak. He says being so far removed from the Lower 48 can make it difficult for the community to engage in issues of institutional racism.
“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.”
Barnes, who is Hispanic, says he feels it’s important to show support for other people of color, and specifically black people, who are significantly more likely to be killed by police than any other racial group in America.
“The entire United States needs to be here to support each other … we’re still forgotten most of the time, but we are still a part of the United States. So we gotta back up our brothers and sisters who are suffering down below.”
Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau all held peaceful rallies this weekend, featuring community activist speakers, a moment of silence and chants urging white protesters and allies of the Black Lives Matter movement to step up to prevent violence against black people.
This story has been updated to reflect that the man Kodiak police detained and pepper sprayed in 2015 is Alaska Native.