“Town Crier” newsletter – Briefs from the Region (1) – 6/9/20
According to Montana Public Radio, “thousands of people across Montana turned out for locally-organized rallies in support of black Americans and against police brutality. The rallies drew disparate crowds, and while talk got heated at times, the events remained non-violent.” The movement, which has captured the attention of cities, citizens and media across the nation (and, in some instances, globe), began on Memorial Day in Minneapolis when ex-police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd, an African American man, for nearly nine minutes despite Floyd’s cries of pain and begging for air; Floyd died following the incident, and Chauvin has since been charged with second degree murder. In Billings—Montana’s largest city—around 2,000 people rallied around the courthouse lawn, and organizer of Justice for George Floyd & Black, Indigenous and People of Color In Our Community/World, Amber Palmer told MTPR “she’s asking that more funding and training be directed to the Billings police department.” Protestors in Billings laid on the ground for eight minutes and 46 seconds in honor of Floyd, with some chanting “I can’t breathe,” among Floyd’s last words, and the event remained peaceful. According to MTPR, Police and organizers were also in contact with protesters who carried guns at the rally. “Yellowstone Militia of Billings commander Tim Westervelt said he and other members of his group were at the rally to help,” telling the outlet, “We are here to support the people, support this movement, protect the constitutional rights, make sure it remains peaceful, protect the businesses.” This show of solidarity is somewhat unique to the Treasure State, where in other cities and states diversity is an everyday fact of life, Montana’s demographics are hardly heterogeneous: nearly 90 percent of the state’s population identify as white, some 6.5 percent identify as Native American, less than 3 percent identify as two or more races, roughly 0.75 percent identifying as Asian and roughly 0.5 percent identifying as black or African American. Still, there is a history of black Americans facing violence in Montana, with 5,000 active KKK members in 1921 and documented lynchings in the first half of the 20th century. A fear of targeted violence remains, with some black and indigenous people in Missoula and Bozeman telling Yellowstone Public Radio they didn’t feel safe participating in rallies in their respective cities.