‘Joy mixed with grief’: Protesters march peacefully in Anchorage to support Black Lives Matter

Demonstrators against police brutality continued to gather momentum with more protests planned for this weekend, including one in Palmer on Saturday.

A large crowd of protesters marched through the streets of downtown Anchorage on Friday evening, calling for justice for George Floyd, a black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis last week.

“They’re supposed to be out here protecting us, but how can they be protecting us if they’re killing us?” said Anchorage protester Melisha Pilcher, who was carrying a sign that read “Pacific Islanders 4 Black Lives Matter.”

Floyd’s death has galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement and sparked protests nationwide — many of which were peaceful, though some led to riots and fires along with violence from both police and protesters.

There was no visible police presence at the event Friday, a peaceful march that began on the Delaney Park Strip. At least 1,000 people gathered, said one of the organizers, 27-year-old Adrian Patterson.

Organizers said it was critical that the march be peaceful. On the Facebook page for the event titled “Justice For George Floyd,” they wrote: “We will demand justice for Floyd, and we will do it peacefully. NO EXCEPTIONS.”

“We’re human. We’re not thugs, looters or rioters,” said organizer Amable Rosa. “This is a human problem.”

Anchorage saw its first rallies last weekend in response to Floyd’s killing. The movement has continued to gather momentum locally with more protests planned for this weekend, including one in Palmer on Saturday.

A few people organized Friday’s march, including Rosa — who is Afro-Latino — and Patterson. The march was diverse, with many black, white, Asian and Pacific Islander attendees, many of them wearing masks as a pandemic precaution. While the crowd consisted predominantly of younger people, a wide range of ages was represented among marchers.

Seventeen-year-old Kaiya Houchins, who will be a high school senior in the fall, said it was incredible to see how many different kinds of people were turning out to support the cause. “It’s mind-blowing,” she said. “This is our time.”

Her 28-year-old sister, Cierra Houchins, said the large turnout in Anchorage and around the country is “a sign that change is coming.”

“I feel like people are finally understanding that all lives will matter when black lives matter,” she said.

[Last week: As unrest sweeps through US, Anchorage rally organizers emphasize the power of working together]

Speakers galvanized protesters with short speeches before the march began, and Rosa told protesters that Anchorage Police Department was “in full support” of their march, though she encouraged the crowd to stay on the sidewalks and remain lawful.

Patterson spoke the names of black people who have been killed by police. After the recitation of each name, the crowd responded, “Say their name.”

Karen Mariko, the mother of a 16-year-old boy who was killed by Anchorage police in February, also spoke.

“We have to look right here at our own cases of police violence,” she said, adding that police violence affects Polynesian, Alaska Native, black and homeless people in Anchorage.

At one point during the protest, a speaker urged Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, who was standing in the crowd, to address the marchers and talk about Anchorage police.

“This police department is your police department,” Berkowitz said. “It has not always done right by the people here.”

“If you want a police that acts differently or behaves differently, you need to speak up because this police department is listening to what you have to say,” he said.

Protesters’ voices rang through the streets as they shouted “Justice for Floyd” and “No justice, no peace.” The sound of car horns followed them as the march snaked along city blocks and car drivers showed their support.

“Other white parents like me need to teach their kids how to be anti-racist from birth,” said 53-year old protester Anita Ojeda.

Ojeda’s daughter, 27-year-old Laura Melchor, said she was marching because the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor — a young black EMT who was shot by police eight times in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment in March — are still walking free.

“This feels like joy mixed with grief,” she said of the demonstration as she marched. She said she would continue to show up to events like this one and keep pushing for convictions for police who kill others.

March organizers also announced a list of 10 demands for local police, asking for more accountability and transparency with the public.

After the protest returned to the Park Strip, Rosa led the crowd in singing happy birthday to Taylor, who would have turned 27 on Friday.

Rosa’s message to all police: “Stop killing us and start protecting us.”

[Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified a speaker at Friday’s march in Anchorage. Her name is Karen Mariko, not Kay West.]

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Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at egoodykoontz@adn.com.

Marc Lester

Marc Lester is a multimedia journalist for Anchorage Daily News. Contact him at mlester@adn.com.