The streets of downtown Federal Way were lined with love as more than 200 individuals joined Sunday’s protest with face masks, support signs and passionate voices.
The demonstration to protest the killing of George Floyd — and support the Black Lives Matter movement — took place May 31 at the intersection of Pacific Highway South and South 320th Street in Federal Way.
The death of Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who was killed when a white officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes, has sparked worldwide protests and backlash against systems that are seen as upholding racism.
Event organizer Claire Morris Clark said she reached out to several black community leaders last Friday to find out about any upcoming protests in Federal Way. Hearing of none, she decided to take action with pastors David Aaron Johnson and Shari Lynn Johnson of TriWorship Church in Federal Way.
“I really wanted there to be a presence in our community instead of going up to another city,” she said. “It was born out of a desire to be a witness in Federal Way. It feels like a place to say ‘let’s be a voice here.’”
The purpose of the event deeply rooted in non-violence was to bear witness, be a public voice and provoke conversations, Clark said. “The community has to talk about these issues for there to be the deep-seated change that’s needed.”
While not involved in the organization of the event, FW Black Collective co-founder Lyn Idahosa attended Sunday’s protest to promote safety.
“We want to make sure the message isn’t getting lost here in Federal Way,” she said. “Every single person has a responsibility in this fight against racism.”
Surrounding businesses, including The Commons mall and Target, closed earlier Sunday afternoon in preparation for the protest, according to security guards.
Looting attempts were made at several businesses hours after the peaceful protest ended and were not connected to Sunday’s event, said Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell.
Lines of peaceful protesters held steady for the four-hour long protest. People in face coverings and abiding social distancing guidelines toed the curbside of each corner of the Federal Way intersection.
A symphony of honks from vehicles passing by were accompanied by individuals occasionally yelling “Black Lives Matter,” “show our power,” and “no justice, no peace.”
Kind strangers, some participating in the protest and some arriving with the sole intent of taking care of protesters, donated snacks, water bottles and hand sanitizer.
The nearly 200-person crowd varied in age — from 7-year-old Kayden R. attending his first protest to adults who said they have seen the story of racial injustice and police brutality repeated over generations.
“He needs to be out here supporting his heritage because I can’t do that for him,” said Kayden’s mother, Kayla Kautzman. As the white mom of a mixed boy, Kautzman said she’s teaching her son it’s OK to stand up for what’s right, “and this is what’s right.”
Cheryl Lee, a resident at SHAG apartments in Federal Way, held a green sign reading: “My grandsons’ lives matter.” Lee, a black woman, is the grandmother to four black grandsons ages 15 to 27 and said she worries about them living in today’s world.
“I’m out here in support of those who have lost a son because of police violence, because of all violence,” she said before her voice caught with tears. “I’m angry … We’re out here because we want all of this killing to stop.”
Reflecting the demographics of Federal Way, the crowd had strong diversity among protesters.
Due to lack of accountability among law enforcement, everyday people are subject to police brutality, especially black lives, said Northeast Tacoma resident Sergio Martinez.
Martinez’s sign read: “Latinos for Black Lives Matter.” He said it’s important for minority groups in any community to come together.
“It’s easier for us to be picked apart when we are alone,” he said. “But if we stand together and we come out for them, they come out for us, we’re a stronger movement. We need to be there for each other. We’re brothers and sisters.”
As a Pacific Islander and someone who identifies as queer, protester Mane Tuiaana said he is standing to make sure all communities are represented.
“I’m tired of all the inequalities that run in our communities, not just in our police system, but in our education system as well,” said Tuiaana, who works in the Tacoma School District. “We need to dismantle all of the things that are not working for each community. All lives cannot matter until black lives matter.”
Attendees also ranged from Federal Way residents to visitors from neighboring cities. One woman even saw the peaceful event unfolding on Facebook Live and drove from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to participate. Others said they were driving by and felt compelled to pull over, park and join the protesting.
Federal Way police consistently drove through the intersection during the afternoon, although intervention was not necessary because of the amicable demonstration.
“The protest was peaceful and lawful, requiring no law enforcement intervention,” said FWPD Cmdr. Kurt Schwan. “We applaud the organizers who did a good job monitoring and running the event.”
Bicycle officers dressed in riot gear were grouped behind nearby businesses and appeared to be waiting in case the protest intensified, but they were not actively policing.
Around 4:30 p.m., a motorcyclist attempting to show off a stunt lost control of his bike, resulting in minor injuries for two women and a baby. The rider was arrested and booked into King County Jail for reckless driving.
Passion, anger and hurt were evident in the voices of protesters, and also raised the question: Will things ever change?
“At the end of the day, what is going to be enough? Because we’ve done this before,” said 22-year-old protester Denysha Mitchell. “Three months from now, are we going to have to do this again?”
Mitchell pointed out the blatant inequalities resulting in the death of black men and women, such as the Feb. 23 death of unarmed 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot while jogging in a residential neighborhood Georgia.
“We’ve had to teach our black brothers and our black sons to be safe around cops,” she said. “Do you want us to teach them to jog differently so that they don’t get attacked?”
At this point, Mitchell said, if nationwide protests are what it takes to make people understand black and brown people are not being treated equally, then so be it.
“It’s like we’re going in circles. It’s heartbreaking,” she said. Mitchell said she remains hopeful the demonstrations can change hearts and prove power lies with the people.
Federal Way residents Eric Alozie, 51, and wife Trina Kaye, 50, stood tall on a corner of the intersection with signs supporting Black Lives Matter.
“I think it’s important for white people to start speaking up and taking anti-racist actions,” said Trina Kaye, a white woman. “I think it’s the silence of white people letting the system continue in its current form at the expense — literally — of black lives for centuries.”
Black people have been ignored for speaking up about the years of injustice, so now is the time for white people to step up, speak up and advocate for the black community, she said.
Eric Alozie, a black man, said protests such as Federal Way’s are important to show the unity of community. He said he was “enthused” about Sunday’s turnout, but also feels it is a catalyst for something bigger.
“I feel like it won’t be just a day in time where ultimately he [George Floyd] is on a T-shirt,” he said. “I feel like this is going to be a movement that’s going to get some traction and we’ll actually see some change going forward. That’s my hope.”