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Santa Rita Park rally aims to educate about racial profiling

Organizers say rally relieves anger, begins long road to change
Protesting Thursday at Santa Rita Park in response to the shootings this week of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police officers and Philandro Castile by a Falcon Heights, Minnesota, police officer are, from left, Mekayla Smith, Molly Wieser and Ellen Paul at U.S. Highway 550/160 and Santa Rita Drive.

A small group of community members gathered at Santa Rita Park to show solidarity with those affected by the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and raise awareness of large social issues concerning race and police brutality.

“It’s about getting rid of racial profiling,” said Alex Blocker, a Fort Lewis College student and protest participant.

Sterling was shot and killed Tuesday during a confrontation with police who were responding to a report of an armed man in front of a convenience store. A video was posted on social media of the events.

A day later, Philandro Castile was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Castile’s fiance, Diamond Reynolds, live-streamed a video to Facebook of the aftermath of the shooting.

The rally, hosted by the Durango chapter of Save the Kids, strived to place the issues surrounding the shootings in the context of historical displacement and discrimination of nonwhites in Southwest Colorado, said Anthony Nocella, assistant professor of sociology at Fort Lewis College and national coordinator of programs for Save the Kids.

“While it’s a beautiful place and a lot of people like hiking and camping and things of that sort and the great food, we need to be aware of the other issues and that not every city has it, as one might say, as nice as us,” Nocella said.

This sentiment was echoed by participants in the protest.

“These problems happen all over the country, it’s not exclusive to big cities,” Mike Klaskala said.

This event stirred up emotions for many, but for Blocker, it was especially relevant.

“Durango is a small community, and I’m one of the black people of this community, and I was pretty outraged when I found out about the recent events with Mr. Sterling,” Blocker said.

The videos of the shooting were spread across social media and led many to voice their opinions online, but it’s important to stand up in person, he said. “I thought it’d be talking out of my neck if I didn’t step out to an event when one was taking place.”

Santa Rita Park was specifically chosen for the protest because of the high traffic flow and history of the area, which used to be the site of a predominately Latino community that faced discrimination, Nocella said.

While the protest was met with mostly support from drivers who honked, waved and shouted encouragement, some passers-by hurled racial slurs at the gathered activists.

“It proves there is work to be done here,” Nocella said.

While events like Thursday’s protest represent a step toward equality, participants said there is a need to be realistic about what they accomplish.

A common misconception regarding protests and rallies is their ability to bring about direct change instead of educating and raising awareness for different issues and providing those who are frustrated an opportunity to express themselves constructively and communally, Nocella said. “We want instant change of course, but change doesn’t occur instantly.”

The sense of communal expression and a desire to relieve anger over the shootings is what brought Molly Wieser to the event with her daughter, Lucinda Jacobs, and family friend, Lucy Nass, Wieser said.

“Our justice system is everybody’s system; we built it, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep it in check,” she said.

This is a facet of what Save the Kids aims to accomplish. The goal of the national organization is to end the incarceration of youth and the school-to-prison pipeline. Its efforts are supported by the department of sociology and a number of other Fort Lewis College student clubs.

Nocella said the recent shootings are a reminder of a longer history of racism within the law enforcement community.

“It’s not new, it’s a continuing pattern,” Blocker said.

However, that did not result in anti-police rhetoric or sentiment at the event.

“What we’re trying to do is not say that anybody is the enemy; we have a system in place that started many, many hundreds of years ago, and we’re trying to change it and reform it as well as transform the whole system,” he said.

Luke Perkins is a full-time student at Fort Lewis College and an intern at The Durango Herald. He can be contacted at lukep@durangoherald.com

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