Since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, unprecedented mass demonstrations have risen up across the country to protest police violence and racial injustice in the United States. La Crosse has already seen three protests, with another scheduled for Sunday, June 7, at Riverside Park beginning at 3 p.m.
Katrina Sletten is a local activist who is working to help lead this demonstration. We spoke with Katrina to learn more about her work and experience in the community.
What did you decide to join the protests in La Crosse last week?
I heard there was a protest happening on Sunday and because this is a predominately white community I really wanted people to remember that there are still Black people in the community, along with Indigenous people and people of color. Since our communities are so small, often when we call out racism we’re silenced. It felt like for the first time in La Crosse the white community was finally ready to hear us. I decided to go to see if I was right.
What changes do you want to see as a result of the protest you took part in?
Getting the community to understand that racism isn’t just a problem in the south or in a big city, it’s a nationwide problem and La Crosse isn’t any different. Sunday’s protest showed me that there were also people in the community who, like me, wanted police reform.
We have seen national protests against police violence and racial injustice across the country in the last decade. But the scale and fervor of this moment feels different. What do you think makes the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death so unprecedented?
I think when George Floyd was murdered we finally hit a breaking point. We all witnessed a Black man beg for his life as a police officer crushed his airway for nine minutes with absolutely zero remorse. During that time not a single officer with him intervened. Witnesses couldn’t either because there really aren’t protective laws for civilians to intervene when they witness police brutality. Every person regardless of skin tone had to sit there and watch as a police officer murdered a man and come to the realization that there was nothing they could do about it. For the first time I believe the white community gained insight into how BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) feel everyday with police: Powerless.
What is your viewpoint on the police and local law enforcement of La Crosse or the surrounding area?
Like many systems in our country they are being broken down by systematic racism. The police departments in our area are having the same issues with racism. It’s dangerous for us and it’s dangerous for them. Luckily it appears that the La Crosse Police Department, led by their Chief of Police Shawn Kudron, is willing to listen to the changes that can put their department on the path of anti-racism and ultimately a safer community. I hope that when the time comes the rest of the police departments in our area are ready to follow.
On a local news broadcast, you briefly spoke of your experience growing up biracial in this local area. Can you describe that experience?
You learn very quickly what people think about your skin tone. It’s overbearing. I have no idea what it is about this area but I’ve never been in a place where white people say the N-word as much as they do here. Especially going through school it seemed like so many kids felt like dropping the N-word was just this amazingly cool thing. I was one of two Black students in my school (the other student being my sister) so when they made jokes like that, we knew there was really nothing I could do about it. At that age you want what every kid wants, to be accepted. There were times when I drew the line on certain issues but many times I learned to play along. There were some really tough times because of this. It took a few years for me to rebuild self-love in my blackness again after getting out of high school.
As a young mother yourself, what is your hope for the world of your children when they grow up?
I want exactly what every parent should want for their children. I want them to grow up confident in themselves, I want them to be happy, and I want them to feel safe in this world. But you can’t be confident if you don’t feel confident in your skin, it’s hard to be happy when you deal with racism everyday, and you can’t feel safe if you’re afraid of the people meant to protect and serve. That’s why it’s time for change.
Is there any call to action you’d like us to link our readers to, such as an organization or policy platform?
Every community needs to enact Campaign Zero across the board in their police departments. The fact is racism isn’t going away in any institution unless we take a hard anti-racist stance starting in our police departments and moving forward.
Photo Caption: Katrina Sletten pictured with her arm raised at the front of the recent vigil for George Floyd in La Crosse.
Interview by Adam Schendel. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, corrections or story ideas.