After a few smaller demonstrations last month, Kodiak turned out in full force last Thursday for a Black Lives Matter peaceful protest. More than 200 people gathered to honor the life of George Floyd and other black people police have killed in America. It was the largest racial justice protest many Kodiak residents could remember.
Hundreds of Kodiak residents marched from Kodiak High School, past the library, down to East Addition Park and back on Thursday in a peaceful protest against the police killings of George Floyd and countless other black Americans. Most of the marchers wore masks, and many held signs calling for justice for those killed, and denouncing systemic racism. They had many reasons for marching, including personal experiences with racism and to show solidarity with communities of color.
Alisandra Lake is half black, half Alutiiq Alaska Native. She marched with a sign that read “Black Lives Matter” in red paint. She says she showed up to protest racism that she herself experiences in Kodiak. Last month while she was waiting for a takeout order, she says a man walked by her, used an expletive and called her the n-word.
“You know, I’ve had to fight people to prove to them that racism is real here because they don’t want to see it. And you know, I’ll get called dramatic or whatever. But I really hope this is helping people wake up.”
Lake’s viewpoint, that Kodiak is not immune to the effects of systemic racism, was shared by many people of color at Thursday’s protest.
“Even here in Kodiak, this utopia that we might think, isn’t so much the utopia that we think that it is,” said Pastor Rony Harden Sr. He served in the Coast Guard for more than 30 years before settling down in Kodiak, and says he still feels the “pressures and prejudices” that exist because he is black.
“It’s clear that it’s here in Kodiak, so we can’t say, keep it in the Lower 48. We’re one of the 50, and it’s here.”
Deborah Bitanga marched down Mill Bay Rd. holding a mirror in front of her, with the words “WHO AM I?” written on the glass. She said it’s meant as a call to action.
“Change starts with the self. So I’m holding a mirror so that people can start asking “who am I” for Black Lives Matter? Because everybody can say Black Lives Matter, but where do we begin?”
Bitanga, who is Filipino, says she’s witnessed the effects of white supremacy in Kodiak, including internalized oppression and anti-blackness within the Filipino community, and the erasure of her culture in America.
Keishin Caballa, a soon-to-be senior at Kodiak High School, was one of the organizers of Thursday’s march. Like Bitanga, she says she’s experienced racism and cultural erasure in Kodiak.
“A lot of my fellow Filipino students in school, we often talk about how people tell us to speak English, because we’re in America. And we shouldn’t be speaking our language because we’re in America. And it’s like… why?”
Peaceful protests across the state within the last week have drawn hundreds of Alaskans to the street to call for reforms within local police departments and the diversion of police funding to community social services. Some protests elsewhere in the United States are calling for the complete defunding of police departments in response to police brutality and the killings of Floyd and others.
On a much smaller scale, Kodiak has grappled with the issue of excessive police force in the past. In 2015, Lieutenant Francis De La Fuente — then a sergeant — forcibly detained and used pepper spray on an Alaska Native man with autism. Community concern at the time centered around the fact that the man had autism. The city settled a lawsuit in 2018 with the man’s family.
In response to the incident, KPD implemented regular trainings on how to identify and interact with people with disabilities, including tactics for de-escalating conflicts.