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Peaceful protesters talk institutional change in Crystal Lake

Protesters marched Saturday from Depot Park in Crystal Lake to the Crystal Lake Municipal Building, during the second day of a two-day Black Lives Matter protest sparked by the death of 46-year-old black man, George Floyd. Floyd died May 25, after white former Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
Protesters marched Saturday from Depot Park in Crystal Lake to the Crystal Lake Municipal Building, during the second day of a two-day Black Lives Matter protest sparked by the death of 46-year-old black man, George Floyd. Floyd died May 25, after white former Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

An ally or an enemy?

It's the question Crystal Lake man Tony Bradburn said black people must ask themselves before every interaction: is this person an ally, or are they an enemy? The answer varies, depending on the situation. Sometimes it comes in the form of a hurtful name, a stranger who crosses the street upon seeing a black neighbor or a store clerk who refuses to help, Bradburn said.

"So the question is what do we do?" he said. "Right? What do we do? We protest."

The second day of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Crystal Lake began Saturday as demonstrators gathered at Depot Park and marched to the Crystal Lake Municipal Building, 100 West Woodstock St. The May 25 death of 46-year-old black man George Floyd was the catalyst for protests throughout the nation. Each of McHenry County's protests has remained peaceful.

Floyd died after a white former Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, more than two of which occurred after Floyd was nonresponsive. With some of his last breaths, Floyd called out "Mama."

“Moms: If you didn’t hear George Floyd call your name then you ain’t living," Bradburn said. "If that didn’t land in some sort of place in your heart as a mother, then I don’t know what’s going on, because he called all the mothers when he was dying under that knee.”

The officers involved – Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – each face criminal charges in connection with Floyd's death.

Saturday's protest emphasized self education and institutional change within the Crystal Lake Police Department and city government. Beyond marching at protests and signing petitions, residents of McHenry County have work to do within their own social circles, family and work places to make real change, protest organizers and attendees said throughout the day.

"I don't think America can handle another of those 8 minutes and 46 seconds," Bradburn said.

In an attempt to enact long-term change, protest organizers Jamie Smuda, Jesse Scherb, DC Smith and Noah Middaugh created a list of demands for improved transparency from the Crystal Lake Police Department. That list was circulated among protesters Saturday, and organizers said they have been in communication with the police department to help implement those suggestions. Recommendations include the implementation of body cameras and public posting of de-escalation and firearm training hours.

"We appreciate the work that the Crystal Lake Police Department does every day to keep our community safe. However, as a community, we must also acknowledge our collective obligation to be proactively anti-racist," Middaugh said. "We must support this endeavor not only with our words of solidarity by also through the improvement of our public policy."

Speakers within the group of more than 300 protesters who gathered Saturday took turns sharing their personal experiences with racial injustice. Several people recounted being called the N-word in class, and all concluded that their teachers said and did nothing to address the behavior.

One Lake in the Hills mother, Carol Durant-Wilson, said her heart broke for her dark-skinned daughter, who longed for light skin like Durant-Wilson's. As a black woman, having light skin has allowed Durant-Wilson certain opportunities that her darker-skinned family members aren't afforded, she said.

"[My daughter] is very uncomfortable in the school that she's in, especially around Black History Month. Why? They don't do Black History Month at the school that she attends. No representation whatsoever," Durant-Wilson said. "And then when they come to the section in the book that talks about black history, everyone looks at her because of course, she's the specimen."

When it came time for Smith to address the crowd, he pulled out a weathered photo from his pocket and held it up for all to see. The man in the photo, Smith's father, couldn't stand next to his son to help him fight racial injustice Saturday.

"He can't be here because he lost that fight," Smith said, choking back tears.

That's why, Smith said, he understands the fear keeping some other black people from attending public events such as protests in the wake of Floyd's death.

“I’m tired of feeling like I don’t matter. I’m tired of having to carry around my dad just to feel supported. My family is so scared to death that they can’t come out here and support me," Smith said. "They can’t come out here and support me and I understand why. Because we are all afraid of change."

A similar protest on Friday drew more than 100 people, who intermittently blocked traffic in the area of Walkup Road and Crystal Lake Avenue.

"Honestly, I wasn't expecting such a turnout, but it's really nice to see and I'm glad people care so much," Smuda said. "I know we're in a kind of conservative area so it's so nice to see all these people willing to help."

Attendees handed out extra masks, bottled water and snacks for protesters who sat outside for hours in the above 80-degree weather.

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