Last Saturday night, approximately 500 islanders lined Vashon’s business district on both sides of the street, from Subway to the Voice of Vashon studio storefront, for a silent, candlelit vigil to honor the memory of George Floyd and all Black lives taken because of racism.
The vigil, which began at 8:30 p.m. and lasted for more than an hour, drew a diverse crowd of young and old. All the participants wore face coverings, and for the most part, adhered to social distancing.
The evening provided a sweeping visualization of the mosaic of Vashon’s population. Small groups of youth arrived together. Parents brought small children to the vigil, and elderly couples stood together. Most were white, reflecting Vashon’s predominant demographic, but many islanders of color and multi-racial families were also in the crowd.
Homemade signs, held aloft by several participants, declared that “Black Lives Matter” and commanded those assembled to “Say Their Names” — referring to all the Black people who are known to have been killed in police custody since Eric Garner’s death in 2014, in New York City. Garner’s final words, like those spoken by George Floyd in the minutes before his death, were “I can’t breathe.”
On May 25, Floyd died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, after arresting him for a non-violent crime. Floyd’s death, caught on tape by a 17-year-old girl who filmed his ordeal on her phone, ignited protests throughout the country and the world.
At one point in the Vashon vigil, a voice rang out from one of the attendees, standing in front of The Hardware Store Restaurant, where a portrait of Floyd by West McLean, hung in the window. “Take a knee for George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds,” the unidentified man called out.
Remarkably, hundreds of the islanders lining Vashon Highway on Friday night did just that.
“I felt that a quiet vigil as a memorial to the too many Black lives that have been brutally taken by the police around the country was in order,” said islander Chris Boscia, who organized the event with Liz Peterson. “The event was beautiful. Sometimes the old adage ‘silence is golden’ really packs a punch, as I think the hundreds of Vashon residents realized on Friday evening.”
Boscia was also the organizer of a more noisy demonstration held on at Bank Road and Vashon Hwy. on Saturday, May 30. He has now launched a group called Vashon in Solidarity Alliance (ViSA), intended to support island residents and businesses working to end systemic and implicit racism.
The group has already announced its next event — a silent march to be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 12, beginning in the parking lot of Vashon Theatre and proceeding to the library, and then heading back to the movie theater. The march on Vashon will occur on the same day as a state-wide general strike and day of protest called by Seattle Black Lives Matter Seattle/King County.
The Vashon response to Floyd’s death has taken place against a backdrop of tens of thousands of protesters marching and demonstrating on a daily basis in Seattle since Floyd’s death.
In the past week, most large marches and protests in Seattle have been peaceful, with the significant exception of an ongoing protest surrounding Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct on Capitol Hill, where large groups of protesters and riot-gear-clad police have repeatedly clashed.
On June 6, police fired pepper spray and flash-bang grenades at protesters, after demanding that the 1,000-person crowd move back 20 feet. On June 7, tear gas was used by police in the same location, despite Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan’s announcement, days before, of a 30-day ban on the use of tear gas at protests. Seattle City Councilmembers Lisa Herbold, Dan Strauss, Andrew Lewis and Teresa Mosqueda, King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, state Sen. Joe Nguyen and state Rep. Nicole Macri joined protesters near the front line of the protests, calling for an end to tactics of using chemical agents and explosives to disperse crowds.
Nguyen, who represents Vashon and West Seattle, tweeted out, “We are asking @Seattle PD move back from the barricades. It’s unnecessary to be so close and only increases tensions.”
On Monday night, the barricades around the precinct were dismantled and the precinct building itself was boarded up and vacated by the department.
For a photo gallery of images of islanders at the vigil, visit tinyurl.com/ydgbdxml. A story about Friday’s 1,100 strong march held in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Seattle/King County is forthcoming.