In second annual March for Justice, demonstrators call for racial equity

·4 min read

Jun. 6—Growing up, Dajah Gee said, she was often told not to discuss things that might make people mad: Race, politics, police reform.

She didn't listen.

On Saturday, she clutched a megaphone and stood in front of a crowd gathered at Mullinix Park in Frederick. She told them about her ancestors, who grew up gathering at Mullinix but weren't allowed in nearby Baker Park. She told them about her grandfather, who fought the city for the right to become its first Black mortician and is memorialized on a plaque not far from where she stood.

And she told them she was tired.

"I'm tired of protesting. I'm tired of being angry. I'm tired of being tired," she said. "But you know what? I'm not going to stop."

About 100 people marched peacefully from Frederick City Hall to Mullinix Park on Saturday to demonstrate support for the Black Lives Matter movement and protest ongoing racial inequity.

Afterwards, Mayor Michael O'Connor issued a proclamation making every June 5 "March for Justice Day" in the city of Frederick, and Michael Hughes — the county's equity and inclusion officer — did the same for the county.

It was a day for the community to come together, organizers said — and to acknowledge that their work was far from over.

Saturday's march marked a year to the day since several thousand people flooded the streets of downtown Frederick in the wake of George Floyd's murder by a Minneapolis police officer. Frederick March for Justice — a group composed mostly of young activists, some still in high school — organized both events.

Though the turnout this year was much smaller, organizer Amiyah Spencer took an optimistic view.

"It shows once again how much our community has really stepped up to help us, and it [shows] that what we're doing won't be forgotten," she said. "It's very exciting to see so many people come out."

After gathering at City Hall, the demonstrators made their way down Market Street, bustling with shoppers and diners. Many patrons stepped out of shops to applaud or observe, and motorists added long honks of support to the chorus of cheers and chants flooding the street.

Frederick Police Department Chief Jason Lando was among the marchers, walking in the middle of the crowd and helping them traverse traffic on the busy street.

"We believe that Black lives matter, brown lives matter, Asian lives matter," Lando told the News-Post. "We appreciate the peaceful protest."

Frederick resident Carrie Lewis and her young daughter made signs out of old pizza boxes for the occasion. Lewis, who also attended last year's march, said she'd been anxiously awaiting the chance to demonstrate again.

"I've been just jonesing for another one," she said. "I've been reading and learning with everything going on in the news."

Once they arrived at Mullinix Park, the demonstrators were greeted with music, snacks and cold water bottles. Black-owned businesses had set up mobile shops there, and the county was offering coronavirus vaccines from under a pop-up tent.

Braving the 90-degree heat, attendees listened for more than an hour as a parade of organizers, officials and advocates took turns at the microphone. Their message was consistent: People need to stay engaged, they said, and commit to taking concrete action against racism and discrimination even when high-profile cases aren't leading the news each day.

Several noted that Breonna Taylor — who was fatally shot in her Louisville apartment last year while police executed a no-knock search warrant — would have turned 28 Saturday.

One speaker was 11-year-old Ayva Wooten. She began to cry moments after the microphone was placed in her hands. Her mother, Iva Hammond, rubbed her back in slow circles.

"We shouldn't have to deal with this every day," Ayva said through sobs. "I shouldn't have to hear about people my age being killed. I shouldn't have to worry about me being killed. I shouldn't have to worry about my siblings being killed, or my family members. This is not OK."

As she paused to collect herself, cheers of encouragement swelled around her.

Despite the nerves and the pain, Ayva said later, she was glad she spoke.

"It felt good," she said. "It made me feel like I'm powerful."

Frederick-based rapper Lorenzo Nichols — also known as Stitch Early — closed out the event with a performance and a reminder.

"As much as today is a great day, it's the work that happens tomorrow," Nichols said. "When things are quiet is when we continue to push forward."

Follow Jillian Atelsek on Twitter: @jillian_atelsek

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