Monday marks three weeks since the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
“We’re fed up. As a people, we’re fed up. As a nation, we’re fed up,” Ryan Penson said. “And it’s not just a color thing at this point, because when you look at everybody, we’re all different colors but we come here as one.”
Protests continue across the country calling for police reform and an end to the systemic oppression of African Americans.
“What this all stemmed from was not just the death of one black man in this country,” Dorian Martin said.
Martin organized a protest in Cleveland Heights Sunday along with other members of “Safer Heights.”
The organization is a collaboration between young African American Cleveland Heights residents and community members who were inspired to march for change following worldwide civil unrest.
“It’s about the many deaths of black men in this country that have been happening for hundreds of years,” Martin said.
But the vocal uproar and proclamations of “enough is enough” have many people asking why now?
“We’re tired. Long story short, we’re tired. I’m tired of being profiled. I’m tired of being stereotyped,” Penson said. “I’m tired of literally having to tell my black guy friends, my brothers, my father, ‘Call me when you get home tonight. Please call me.’”
One legal expert told News 5 the calls for change closely mirror the momentum of the Civil Rights Movement.
“During the Civil Rights Movement it was readily apparent that there were certain structural and governmental obstacles in place where black people were treated just obviously unfairly,” Ayesha Bell Hardaway said.
Bell Hardaway, an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said the structural obstacles have not disappeared, and in fact, are more prevalent as people are more inclined to share their stories on social media platforms.
“Yes, people have known about it, particularly in black communities,” Bell Hardaway said. “But it hasn’t ever really always been believed.”
In the weeks since Floyd’s death, protests have been seen and heard loud and clear across the country, including here in Northeast Ohio.
“George Floyd, may he rest in peace,” Penson said. “But his life caused and sparked a movement that’s not going to stop until we get change.”
But many are left wondering, with other high-profile cases of documented police brutality in recent years, what strikes a different nerve about the death of Floyd?
“You can’t look at that video and see a cop kneeling on a man’s neck for eight minutes and think that there’s something right with it,” Martin said.
Bell Hardaway said it’s just that - the accountability and reliability of smartphones and the quick dissemination of information, photos and videos online.
“People in the black community believed it, right, but what’s different now is that people in the larger community and white communities are unable to deny what the videos show,” Bell Hardaway said.
She said there are a handful of other parallels between the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The awareness that exists from white people who have the ability to influence and impact decision making in this country is also something that was happening in the 1960s,” Bell Hardaway said.
But Bell Hardaway said there is a key difference - video proof of interactions with police force a sense of momentum that demonstrators hope will bring legislative change, beginning with police reform.
“Law enforcement authorities from the bottom to the top to say, ‘We have to reckon with the terrible history of policing in America,’ and not just within the last 50 years or so, but the origins of policing,” Bell Hardaway said.
Safer Heights protest organizers created a list of demands they hope to see immediately addressed, including the reallocation of funding from police budgets to public school systems and social services.
“We’re not going to sit here and listen to those PC [politically correct] answers anymore,” Martin said. “We’re not going to hear you say, ‘Oh we’ll look into our policies.’ Give me a straight-up answer for what you think can help us.”
Safer Heights demonstrators said topics that need to be addressed immediately include education, housing and healthcare.
“When we say defund the police, it’s not saying get rid of all police, abolish the police. No, it’s not like that,” Penson said. “Find ways to take all the money that they’re getting and make it into something better. Find a way to actually put forth what we, as a people, our tax money, put it back into our community.”