It hasn’t yet been two months since George Floyd was killed. So much has happened since then, and so quickly, that it’s altered our sense of time.
Grand Junction has been spared the civil unrest that occurred in many of the nation’s largest cities, including Denver, in the wake of Floyd’s death. Demonstrations here have been peaceful, largely because the leading local activist group, Right and Wrong, recognized early that an overly confrontational stance could drown out its message.
“I love Black Lives Matter and the idea behind it,” said Antonio Clark, a spokesman for Right and Wrong, “but it’s divisive. Every time you say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ you’re going to get another person who says, ‘All Lives Matter.’ ”
And all lives do matter to Right and Wrong. “We’re not just a Black organization,” Clark told the Sentinel’s editorial board on Monday. “We’re for any section of the community that’s been marginalized.” That includes Latinos and members of the LGBTQ community.
Right and Wrong leaders didn’t plan on starting a grassroots movement. It just happened. Had Floyd not been killed, “I don’t think any of us would be doing the things we’re doing,” Clark said.
They attended a candlelight vigil shortly after Floyd’s death, then planned to confront Grand Junction Police Chief Doug Shoemaker about the department’s relationship with people of color. During their march on the Police Department, they were joined by members of the Colorado Mesa University football team and others.
The same phenomenon occurred when they decided to march on City Hall to share stories of racism with City Council members. People joined the march organically, Clark said.
That’s when the group realized it had an opportunity to “unite the community — doing it on the ground level instead of relying on politicians and people in power,” Clark said. But the group needed a brand separate from Black Lives Matter — something less confrontational and more inclusive.
“We said, ‘We’re going to do this peacefully and just use our voices,” Clark said. “When you riot, you’re going to be met with force. All that does is further the problem and make it worse — makes more people mad. Makes more people feel disenfranchised.”
The group’s activism has already led to changes.
It’s managed to get the City Council to appoint a task force on racial equality. It’s been invited by District 51 to address racial inequities in the classroom and members are formulating suggestions to better teach about achievements of Black Americans. A conversation with Shoemaker led the chief to tell the group to hold him accountable to the highest standards of fair treatment by his police officers. When Gov. Jared Polis was in town recently to sign some new laws, he invited members to meet with him. CMU took Walter Walker’s name off its soccer and lacrosse field — an outcome the group didn’t demand.
It’s also hosted a teach-in and a Juneteenth celebration.
Floyd’s death was a “game-changer” in that it graphically opened people’s eyes to racial inequities, Clark said, making it easier to appeal to their sense of justice.
We’re fortunate to see change happening here as a result of peaceful activism. Some of that credit goes to local elected officials who have taken time to listen. Most, however, goes to members of Right and Wrong for calmly pointing out some major blind spots that have impeded our ability to become a better community.