EAU CLAIRE — Chants of “Black lives matter,” “No justice — no peace” and “Say his name — Jacob Blake” rang through the streets of Eau Claire on Saturday as several hundred people turned out to protest racial injustice and police brutality.
The two-hour protest came in response to Kenosha police officers on Aug. 23 shooting Jacob Blake, a Black man, multiple times in the back in front of his children. Blake is now paralyzed from the waist down, according to a family lawyer.
The event included speeches in Randall Park, a circuitous march to the Eau Claire County Courthouse and then more impassioned speeches and chants.
“This isn’t the first time a police department has shown they don’t care about Black lives; this isn’t the first time they tried to murder us in broad daylight,” Jazmine-Marie Cruz yelled to the crowd.
Cruz, who grew up in Kenosha and has lived in Eau Claire for the past 10 months, earned cheers from protesters when she called for defunding, reforming and retraining the police.
“If you don’t want protests, then do it right the first time. Take your hand off your gun. Take your knee off of our neck. Do your job,” she said. “If you take an oath to protect and serve, then protect and serve all citizens.”
The two-hour protest remained peaceful, as repeatedly requested by organizers, despite the presence of a handful of counterprotesters.
Two men in a blue pickup pulled up next to chanting marchers and waved a President Donald Trump flag out the window.
Asked why he attended, driver Dan Frandsen of Eau Claire, sporting a “Trump: Make America Great Again” hat, responded, “I’m sick and tired of Black lives matter. What about all lives matter? They’re the ones who are racist.”
One of the leaders of the protest, Rachel Pride of Eau Claire, said in an interview that such logic doesn’t make sense in a climate when so many Black people are the victims of police violence.
She equated it with neighbors crying “my house matters” if her house was on fire and firefighters didn’t respond to all nonburning houses in the neighborhood equally.
“We are getting shot. We are getting jailed. We are getting followed,” said Pride, who is Black and felt the sting of prejudice while growing up in Eau Claire. “I just want to live my life in peace. I’m (expletive) tired of it.”
Kendall McGinnis, who graduated in May from UW-Eau Claire and was involved with the Black Male Empowerment group on campus, said it was heartwarming to see the large turnout for the protest, especially in an overwhelmingly white community such as Eau Claire.
“It’s definitely frustrating that it keeps happening over and over and nobody is doing anything about it,” McGinnis said of what he described as unnecessary police violence against African Americans.
“I want the whole world to see this message,” he said, gesturing toward protesters calling for change.
David Carlson, Eau Claire regional organizer for the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Rights for All campaign, tapped into the pent-up frustration of the nationwide summer of racial unrest that has followed the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Over and over, Carlson led the crowd in a chant of “We’re not asking for change. We’re demanding it.”
UW-Eau Claire history professor Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, who helped organize the protest, said the goal was to call for police reforms that can make justice for all a reality.
Ducksworth-Lawton, a member of the Eau Claire Police and Fire Commission who consults with the Eau Claire Police Department on racial bias issues, called for attendees to contact Eau Claire County supervisors and demand that the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office start using evidence-based policing. The approach, which is used by the Eau Claire Police Department, includes training about implicit bias and how to de-escalate tense situations.
She also encouraged the protesters, who wore masks in hopes of stopping the spread of the coronavirus, to contact state and federal legislators to demand police reform.
Luke Seidel of the Eau Claire Justice League agreed, saying demonstrators need to follow through to ensure their calls for racial justice are heard and turned into action.
Ducksworth-Lawton was particularly pleased the Chippewa Valley protest, unlike some others around the country, included no violence or property damage.
“The eyes of the world are on us today because this is a peaceful demonstration,” Ducksworth-Lawton said. “Eau Claire will show the nation how it’s done.”