On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of Durham residents joined tens of thousands of Americans who have united to demand justice for George Floyd, the unarmed and handcuffed Minneapolis man who killed on Monday by white police officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.

More than 300 Durham protesters arrived downtown at Corcoran Square before marching about three blocks to the city’s recently built police headquarters near the intersection of East Main and South Elizabeth Streets.

Some of the protesters held signs that read, “The Judiciary Is Corrupt,” and “I Can’t Breathe,” which were among the last words Floyd, 46, screamed while begging for his life.

The killing was captured by a 17-year-old’s phone camera. The video, which quickly went viral, was instrumental in Chauvin being charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

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Durham’s protesters stood in front of police headquarters and at one point sang “Lean On Me.” Several protesters stood in the middle of the road and vented their frustrations not only on behalf of Floyd but for the decades-long killing of black people with impunity by the police and self-appointed vigilantes.

Skye Spencer, 28, held aloft a sign demanding justice for Ondrae Levado Hutchinson, a 30-year-old man fatally shot by police who were investigating a domestic incident in April.

“We’re protesting about what happened to George Floyd,” said Spencer, who had arrived downtown at about 10:00 a.m. “But this happened right here, and we didn’t do anything.”

Spencer brought several signs, including one that read, “The Miseducation of the White Man Is Hate, Don’t Hate Us, Don’t Shoot Us.”

One protester said the police killings of black people took off in earnest during the Obama Administration.

He yelled, “The system is stacked against you!” 

“Fuck racism!” yelled another protester.

“Fuck racism,” the crowd answered.

The demonstrators then left the police headquarters and stretched about three blocks while heading toward Five Points. They were followed by three patrol cars.

Before leaving, Spencer said:

“I would like for all of us to be treated the same, whether they’re police or citizens,” she said. “Young people need to vote so that they’ll know who our judges and prosecutors are to prevent this.”

Courtney Pierce, a native of Wilmington who has lived in Durham for 17 years, stood among the protesters and silently held a sign that read, “If You’re Not Part of the Problem, You’re Part of the Solution.”

Pierce, who is white with three biracial children, said she’s hoping for “a change for my race, for white people to see there needs to be a change. We’re everyday people, and we’re the ones who can bring about change. Everyday people showing up and making a difference. We’re all in this together. Our silence is part of the problem.”

Rodney Williams, who works with the nonprofit Walk For Life, grabbed a megaphone and said that all police are not bad. 

“That cop over there,” Williams said while gesturing at an officer parked nearby. “He needs to start snitching on bad cops.”

The protest was organized the night before by a half-dozen friends who started instant messaging others and using social media to get the word out. They crafted a virtual flyer that appeared on Facebook and Instagram.

“We came together on a Zoom call, five or six of us,” said one of the organizers, Skip Gibbs, who owns the Black Rose Collective, a tattoo shop in South Durham. “We wanted to take a stand.”

Gibbs used a megaphone to tell the demonstrators, “The police need to learn how to deal with us! Teach the police how to police! We don’t need to change how we are. We don’t have to do some little dance to please them!”

Another organizer, Michael Taylor, who also owns a tattoo parlor, said people heeded the group’s call and started gathering around 1:00 p.m.

The significant white participation at the impromptu demonstration mirrored the multiracial protests taking place across the country. The racial makeup of the protests has galvanized a nation that has endured a widening polarization in recent years.

Ben Pippie, a white state employee, held up a sign that read, “End White Silence. Black Lives Matter.”

“I believe white silence is white violence,” Pippie said. “I’ve seen so many black lives lost at the hands of the police. If we don’t say anything, then it’s like we’re saying it’s OK. I’m here for justice for all those lives lost at the hands of the police. This has got to stop. It’s outrageous, and I don’t think it will stop until white people stand up as well.”

Contact staff writer Thomasi McDonald at tmcdonald@indyweek.com.

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