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Black Lives Matter rally held in downtown Billings attracts crowd

Black Lives Matter rally held in downtown Billings attracts crowd

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On Friday morning, Shauntenyce Bergen posted on a few of her social media accounts to gauge the interest of having a Black Lives Matter rally in Billings.

A few hours later she checked her accounts again and was shocked at the response.

“I’m proud,” Bergen, 22, said of Saturday’s turnout. The George Floyd Justice Protest began at about noon on Saturday.

About 50 or more people, primarily college-aged or younger, stood at the steps of the Billings Police Department's downtown station to protest police brutality and violence against black Americans, particularly the recent death of George Floyd who was arrested by police officers in Minneapolis.

Floyd, 46, died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, 44, knelt down on Floyd’s neck and suffocated the man. Chauvin has since been charged with Floyd’s murder.

Floyd’s death and a string of recent violence against African Americans, including the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in February and Breonna Taylor in March, has sparked protests in Minneapolis and across the nation.

In Montana, protests have been held in Missoula, Helena and Bozeman. Another Billings rally is scheduled for June 7. 

Bergen, with the help of co-organizer Jade Lyn Gunn, 23, wanted to bring awareness and show solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement in a state that is predominantly white.

Throughout the day Bergen said the response from Billings has been overwhelmingly supportive. Motorists along North 27th Street honked horns, cheered and waved to protesters.

Many protesters on Saturday wore T-shirts with slogans like “Black Lives Matter” or “I Can’t Breathe”. Others held handmade signs and chanted things like "Say His Name. George Floyd."

Justus Cothorn, 18, said he was out protesting on Saturday because he doesn’t want future generations of black kids growing up feeling different or less than.

“I don’t want to have to teach my kids the same thing my dad taught me about being a black man in America,” Cothorn said. Cothorn is a student at Billings Senior High.

From an early age Cothorn said he remembers his dad coaching him on how to behave if a police officer confronts him or pulls him over.

Jaquwan “Q” Brackenridge, 41, said he’s had those same conversations with his two young sons, Cameron, 16, and Junior, 18.

“Most parents talk with their kids about the birds and the bees,” Brackenridge said. “Us minorities, we have to sit and talk about how to deal with police. That’s not cool. You shouldn’t have to teach your kids how to deal with the police—they are supposed to be the peace makers.”

Brackenridge attended the rally with his teen sons to ensure their safety and “keep the peace.” He felt encouraged by the youth-led rally.

“They are stepping out and stepping up,” Brackenridge said.

Cameron, Brackenridge’s son, said he heard about the rally on Snapchat and thought to himself ‘let’s start this.’

The Central High sophomore shared the protest's information with all his friends.

“It feels like we (Billings protesters) have power and leverage,” Cameron said. “It’s cool to know somebody has your back.”

Gunn and Bergen stressed that the protest was not meant to bash all cops, but to spread awareness on the unequal treatment that black people continue to face.

"We’re tired of the injustice, we just want change. It’s got to get better," she said.

“It's sad we’re still protesting this in 2020,” Bergen continued.“We’re going through the same thing as our great-grandparents and our grandparents.”

Gunn agreed, adding that her family has had a long history of fighting against racism and inequality.

“My grandpa was part of the Black Panther Movement. I’ll continue to pass this on to my kids,” she said.

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PHOTOS: Justice for George Floyd Protest

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