Chants of “no justice, no peace,” “black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe” echoed through downtown Johnson City Friday night as demonstrators took to the streets for the second straight day to protest the death of George Floyd while in police custody earlier this week.
One of the protesters, Yudehwheh Gbaa, said watching the video of Floyd’s death was “unbearable,” saying it “gets to a point where you cannot stand it anymore and you can’t hold it anymore and you have to come out and say something.”
“Although this is happening in Minnesota and other places, we in Johnson City need to come together and show that we are united as a country to show support of what’s going on there,” Gbaa said.
At one point during the rally, which saw demonstrators march from Founders Park to Johnson City Hall, Gbaa led the crowd in an “umoja” chant — a reference to the popular Johnson City festival that derives its name form the Swahili word for unity.
“I just feel like this has been enough,” Gbaa said. “We need to come together as a country, we need to come together as a community to support each other as brothers and sister no matter what color, race, height, size, country — no matter where we’re from, we need to come together as one.
“United we stand and divided we will fall,” Gbaa continued, “and I really am proud of Johnson City for coming out here and supporting all black people no matter what race they are, and I’m so proud right now that I cannot — it’s overwhelming.”
Kerri Music, a white woman with two biracial children, also spoke to the crowd, telling them she came for her children.
“I’m raising my kids in a world where they’re not looked at as biracial, they’re looked at as black and I’m scared for them,” Music said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we need to have more justice.”
Music said she even named her son Justice, “because black men don’t get enough justice in this world.”
“I’m scared for 20 years from now when my cute little boy is a threat and he’s no longer cute anymore,” Music said. “Where are we going to be in 20 years if something doesn’t change? Am I going to get that phone call in the middle of the night 20 years from now that something happened to my baby boy? That he got pulled over or that someone called the cops on him?
“People call the cops for ridiculous reasons, and unfortunately when you call the cops on a black man you may have just given him a death sentence,” Music continued.
Just hours before the rally began in Johnson City, Hennepin County (Minnesota) Attorney Mike Freeman announced that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Chauvin is the officer seen on video pressing his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck until he lost consciousness and ultimately died.
The preliminary results from Floyd’s autopsy were also revealed Thursday in the criminal complaint against Chauvin, saying Floyd’s death was likely caused by “the combined effects of Floyd being restrained by police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system.” The family has said it will seek an independent autopsy.
A community prayer gathering is set for Saturday evening at the steps of Johnson City Hall, where Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner and Mayor Jenny Brock are expected to attend. The event will begin at 6 p.m.