National heartbreak hits home

Protesters in IWV call for justice in wake of George Floyd death

National heartbreak hits homeBy REBECCA NEIPP and BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writers

A single protester stood at the corner of China Lake and Ridgecrest boulevards on Sunday afternoon. That number grew to more than a dozen by that evening, and kept growing the next few days. While the messages on their signs and their stated reasons for showing up may vary, the scores of demonstrators were prompted by the same heinous action: the murder of George Floyd.

The viral footage (including a New York Times video that combines multiple perspectives, viewed millions of times since Monday: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vksEJR9EPQ8) shows four officers of the Minneapolis Police Department attempting to arrest Floyd on May 25.

Portions of the video depict Floyd lying face-down on the pavement for more than 8 minutes while Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck. Floyd repeatedly uttered that he could not breathe. Bystanders could be overheard pleading for Chauvin to remove his knee. Chauvin remained, hands in pockets, pinning down a prostrate Floyd. By the time an ambulance arrived, Floyd was declared dead.

The response to the graphic scene was immediate and largely unified, as outcry arose from black and white, liberal and conservative, denouncing Chauvin for his crimes. All four officers were fired and now face charges.

But in the days that followed, as some of the demonstrations grew violent and destructive, old battle lines resurfaced. Anger shifted from the actions of the Minneapolis police officers to the people who were protesting. The African American community in general, and the Black Lives Matter movement in particular, became a target of scorn from those outraged by the ensuing riots.

In our remote and tight-knit community, we remain largely untouched by the negative backlash. But not from the underlying racism and injustice, according to those involved in the movement.

On Monday evening, those participating in the demonstration said that about 90 percent of the community has expressed support for the cause. Police officers have delivered water to protesters, or even joined them in the display. Councilman Kyle Blades thanked the demonstrators and asked them to let city officials know if they felt their safety was in jeopardy. Most cars honk and wave. Some even drop off food.

But there are also those who have responded by shouting obscenities, making vulgar gestures and especially criticizing the syntax of the Black Lives Matter slogan.

Proponents of the movement have tried to explain that the black community is not pressing for anything but equal treatment. And the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and hundreds of other unarmed men at the hands of authorities is evidence of a flawed system.

“Black Lives Matter does not mean that we don’t care about our white neighbors,” said Miriam Hogg. If your house is in flames, the fire department comes to your rescue. Their focus is on the house on fire.

“In a loving community, people come together to help those in a crisis. Black lives are not more important than any other lives, but we feel that ours are in danger. This is the house that is burning.”

For the Hogg family, it is not a new cause. She and her husband, Reese, buried their son Malik Mallett in 2017. When a fight erupted at a party that Malik was attending, he allegedly intervened in an attempt to break it up. He was stabbed in the process by a white male contemporary.

Malik succumbed to his wounds at the scene. The suspect fled. No charges were filed. Former District Attorney Lisa Green said that, based on the information her office gathered, the assailant was acting in self-defense.

Upon learning this, the Hogg family tried to help by locating additional witnesses in order to compel the D.A.’s office to press charges. Green said they did not have enough evidence. “No jury ever heard the case. We may never get our day in court.”

She said that she was heartened to see the support of those trying to draw attention to the cause at the local level. “We may not all feel the discrepancies of the justice system, but as long as that imbalance exists, it is going to affect us all.”

Miriam said that she also understood why the term “racist” makes people feel defensive. “It’s a really nasty term. I get that. But the truth is we all have our biases. We are all accustomed to seeing and experiencing the world in a certain way. Even so, each of us has to take a moment of self-reflection, try to see things from another perspective, if we are going to heal. “Racism may not be as big a problem in Ridgecrest — it may be only a tiny fraction of the people who live here who think that way. But even here we have room for improvement.”

Ezekiel Woodridge moved his family to Ridgecrest in 2005 to get away from discrimination. “But it doesn’t seem to matter where you are.”

Woodridge is the grandson of Annie Woodridge — a fixture in the civil rights movement during the 1950s and ’60s (and, incidentally, the namesake of the “Mother Dear’s Community Center” in Washington D.C.)

Woodridge’s 16-year-old daughter, Star, asked her father if she could join the local protest. He said yes, and decided to come with her. “We’re out here because people think, because of the color of my skin, I’m a threat or I’m a criminal. This is nothing new to us,” he said.

That sentiment was repeated by nearly everyone of color throughout the line of protestors. Men, women, boys and girls recounted stories of being followed around in stores and asked to leave, being refused service, being called hateful names, being maligned by customers while performing their jobs.

“We’re here in 2020 and things seem as bad as they were before the Civil Rights era,” said Woodridge.

Colin Kaepernick began protesting the systemic discrimination in 2014 by kneeling during the National Anthem at the beginning of NFL games. And people hated him for even that harmless protest, said Woodridge.

“The looters are obviously separate from protesters,” he said. Opportunists of every color have confused the issue with their criminal behavior.

“But it’s like the Dr. King quote: ‘A riot is the language of the unheard.’ People are grieving and in pain and angry about losing loved ones to police brutality and nothing being done. We’re pissed off and we’re fed up.”

Hogg commended the productive nature of local demonstrations. “I do have to say — I do not condone the riots in any way. Destroying other people’s property and businesses is terrible. But I think it’s also important for people to understand that it’s painful for us to see people silent about innocent death and offended by a riot. If you decide to use your voice against that, but not murder, that’s problematic.”

She added that, ultimately, people can recover from the destruction of property. “But I will never have my son back.”

Jon Riddick said that he has discovered even he has been sheltered from the experience of a black man living in a more overtly oppressive environment.

Riddick and his wife Lynn, who is white, have lived in Ridgecrest most of their lives where they’ve raised their mixed-race family.

“I remember getting pulled over in Mississippi, and I thought everything was fine. But everybody in my family was so scared. I’m not scared, because that’s just my experience. I pay taxes, the police are here to help me.”

But that is not the experience for all men of color, he said. Members of his family where he grew up in Virginia, like his cousin, have told him they are afraid if they call 9-1-1, they could be the one who is shot. Or his son, “because he’s 17 and he’s big.

“If someone is lurking outside their home, they have to make the decision of risking their lives by confronting the lurker, or risking their lives by confronting the police.”

The Riddicks also expressed shock at Chauvin’s history of abuse, with no apparent repercussions.

“We don’t want to be afraid of police officers, we want to think they’re there here for our protection,” said Lynn.

But in the videos, Chauvin displays an apparent indifference to those calling him out for excessive use of force.

“It used to be, if you were racist, you would put a sheet over your head and burn crosses at night … Now, in the daylight with everybody filming you, you don’t care,” said Jon.

“He didn’t care. There’s just something wrong with that — the ‘I don’t care.’ You know why he didn’t care? Because he was written up 18 times and they didn’t do anything about it,” said Riddick.

“Our law enforcement, our city officials — they’ve got to see it. They have to imagine this is something that could happen to their son,” he said.

“People need to vote,” added Lynn. “Find out who really will make a difference in office. You can’t just show up without information.”

Residents outside of the black community are also imploring citizens to stand with the marginalized.

“We are a community, and a community holds each other accountable and lifts up those who have fallen,” said James Long, who has attended the demonstrations daily. “Our black community is hurting. We are all hurting. Silence is violence.”

He noted that despite those who have expressed fear of those demonstrations escalating into something destructive, all local protests have been peaceful. He also commended the city officials who have expressed support.

“This is the type of leadership I love to see in my community.”

Kathlyn Metonia and Kaycee Kohut of Black Lives matter have arranged for a “March for George Floyd” on Saturday, June 6, at LeRoy Jackson Park.

“A man was killed. We all saw it,” said Miriam. “Let’s not lose track of what this is about.”

Pictured: Local demonstrators line up along Ridgecrest and China Lake Boulevards to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. — Photo by Rebecca Neipp

Story First Published: 2020-06-05