Hundreds attended a Black Lives Matter protest Wednesday in Crystal Lake that filled the Crystal Lake Municipal Building parking lot, where protesters lay facedown on the asphalt and chanted “I can’t breathe!”
Wednesday’s peaceful demonstration drew McHenry County’s largest crowd yet to protest the May 25 death of 46-year-old black man George Floyd. Floyd died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd called “mama” and exclaimed that he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin, who has since been fired and criminally charged in connection with Floyd’s death, knelt on the man’s neck for nearly three minutes after Floyd was nonresponsive, according to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
Crystal Lake residents Symon Pallasigue, 20, and Charlie Salerno, 19, organized the protest, which was the first in the county to lead protesters on a march to the local police department.
“I wanted us to come together as a whole and show the world they’re not alone,” Salerno said.
After watching the video of Floyd’s death, Pallasigue was “at a loss for words” and felt inspired to do something for his community, he said. His post about the demonstration immediately garnered skeptical comments from people who were afraid the protest would devolve into a the looting and vandalism occurring in other areas. Pallasigue said that the first two comments were posted within one minute of his announcement and read: “No way. I don’t trust the protesters.” and “All lives matter.”
“I think that if that doesn’t show the racial injustice in our community right now and why we need this protest today, I don’t know what does,” Pallasigue said.
The protest remained peaceful as demonstrators marched down Walkup Road from Veteran Acres Park to the Crystal Lake Municipal Building. Although some passing drivers objected from their cars, the overall response from onlookers was supportive. Interactions were civil between protesters and police, who directed traffic and quietly watched on the outskirts of the protest.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Pallasigue said.
Several attendees addressed the crowd and shared their personal experiences with racism. The public comment portion of the gathering emphasized self-education and the power of a vote. One teacher even came prepared with informational handouts instructing protesters how to register to vote.
A Spring Grove resident who introduced himself as a trans man named Bee, reminded protesters that equality for the LGBT+ community goes hand-in-hand with Black Lives Matter values.
“The reason I can stand here, living my life is because two courageous black women said enough was enough. Marsha P. Johnson and Slyvia Rivera decided [they] were tired of their treatment and the treatment of their LGBT+ siblings,” Bee said. “They stood for human rights. They stood for our right to live. They stood for my right to live. And you better believe I will stand for their right and my [people of color] siblings rights to live.”
Shyann Kively, of the progressive First Nations community, Lil’wat Nation, also took a moment to thank protesters for coming together despite their differences.
“Thank you my brothers and sisters,” Kively said in Ucwalmicwts, the language of Lil’wat Nation.
Others, like 22-year-old Terrrell Sheridan, briefly spoke about the “power and trauma” the black community felt upon seeing George Floyd take his last breaths.
Sheridan, who was adopted, said he grew up in a multicultural household and didn’t experience racism until he entered the school system.
“I grew up learning the same things as them and they thought I was supposed to be different, because of what they saw in the media or what their parents had told them,” Sheridan said. “Racism is a taught thing. Hate is taught. It’s passed down and if we start young and employ love at those stages of our life I think it would be very important.”
Another round of protests are scheduled to take place in Crystal Lake over the weekend.