A scene from the crowd.
A scene from the crowd. Alex Zielinski

More than a thousand Portlanders gathered in Peninsula Park Friday evening to memorialize George Floyd, the Black Minneapolis man who died Monday after an officer kneeled on his neck, cutting off his airway.

"Where was the threat of danger?" Pastor Roy Tate asked the crowd, referring to Floyd's final moments. In a video taken of the encounter, Floyd is handcuffed, face down on the ground as Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck.

"There was none," he continued. "They just killed another Black man. So what do we want? Justice!"

Tate was joined by dozens of other Portlanders of color on the park pavilion stage to decry Floyd's death and call for an end to police brutality against Black Americans. The megaphone was passed between school teachers, community activists, teenagers, religious leaders, and parents over the course of three hours (organizers sanitized the megaphone between each speaker).

Members of the Black Riders Liberation Party speaking at the Friday vigil.
Members of the Black Riders Liberation Party speaking at the Friday vigil. Alex Zielinski

Billy Ballastressi, told the crowd that he grew up in North Portland, and that he's too familiar with being harassed by Portland police officers—included some that he went to elementary school with.

“I’m here because I’m tired of being an angry Black man," Ballastressi said. "I'm more than that."

Speakers reminded the crowd that Portland is not immune to officer violence against its Black residents, pointing to the deaths of Kendra James, Keaton Otis, Aaron Campbell, Quanice Hayes, and Jason Washington.


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Alex Zielinski

"I've been going through racism my whole life," said one 15-year-old boy. "I feel like I shouldn't have to worry about somebody watching me when I walk down the street. I don't want to be the next Trayvon Martin. I want to live."

Another woman directed her statements to the demonstration's white attendees.

"I need for you to understand that Black people have been fighting this fight for a while," she said, wiping away tears. "We need you to support us. We need you to trust Black people. Hire Black people. Invite Black people into your homes. Love Black people."

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An estimated 90 percent of all attendees wore face coverings and generally adhered to social distancing rules by spreading out across the spacious park. Unlike past Portland demonstrations, no police officers or clear counter-protesters were in attendance. The event offered a stark contrast to other protests taking place across the country in response to Floyd's death that have been met with armored officers and protester violence.

The Peninsula Park vigil wrapped at 9 pm, but the night's demonstration isn't over. Hundreds of protesters are now marching south down NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd towards Multnomah County Justice Center to join another group of protesters who've been camping outside the county building for several days. We'll update this post as the demonstrations continue.

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Alex Zielinski