The time for awareness raising is over, Katrina Sletten told the crowd that gathered in downtown La Crosse on Friday to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake and police violence and racism in general.
“We have to move away from the discussion of awareness,” Sletten said outside La Crosse City Hall. “I don’t need to be aware that Black lives are dying anymore. I know that…The nation should know that. I don’t want to hear about that anymore. What I want to hear is exactly what our leaders are doing to create policy change to prevent this from happening anymore.”
Sletten gave an emotionally charged oration that called demonstrators to action, no matter how exhausted they might feel by the endless litany of stories of police violence and racism.
She was speaking in La Crosse on the 65th anniversary of the death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black child lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman. Till would become an icon of the Civil Rights movement. Friday was also the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.
Yet 57-years on from that famous speech, Sletten was gathered with dozens of demonstrators to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man shot in the back seven times in front of his children by police in Kenosha last Sunday.
“I don’t want to hear that the plan is to have a conversation from the leaders any more,” Sletten said. “That conversation is done. We need policy change now, that’s what this is about.”
She urged the demonstrators to get engaged in local politics, to support candidates for city council in next year’s elections who can make a difference, and to relentlessly hold elected representatives to account.
“How is the city council spending the city money? What is our police chief doing with police reform? What is going on in our various different boards?…We have to be more engaged,” Sletten said.
She also had a message for those who criticized Blake for turning his back on police. Blake was left paralyzed from the waist down, fighting for his life, and yet also shackled to his hospital bed for days after being shot.
“It is ingrained in us from the early age about how to be respectful to an officer,” Sletten said. “But the degradation and humiliation we suffer at their hands every day…at one point we all get to a point where we say enough is enough and we walk away, and that’s the day our name becomes a hashtag. Every time.”
Among the other speakers at Friday’s demonstration was Brandon Sydnor, who also urged demonstrators to action, by voting, by building community, and by directly confronting prejudice.
“The time for silence and complacency is over. My people, my fathers, my mothers, my brothers and my sister, my family is dying,” Sydnor said. “We are still being shunned, shamed and silenced in a country that was built on the back and out of the bones of hatred, ignorance and racism.”
Chauncy Turner, a member of the city’s human rights commission, also spoke at the demonstration, which was organized by local activists and called “Enough is Enough…Change is NOW!”
“Black people are humans. We deserve for policy leaders to take a closer look at what’s happening to us. We have sons and daughters we care for,” Turner said. “We are real – we cry, we laugh, we bleed and love just the same as everyone else. For too long, the humanistic element has been dissociated with black faces and so it’s become easy to treat black men, women and children as less than. That needs to change, on all levels, that needs to change.”
By Eric Timmons. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Top image shows signs held by two protesters at Friday’s demonstration in La Crosse.
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