Protest Portraits: ‘Speaking Up For Those Who Can No Longer Speak’

Jackson residents told KHOL why they joined dozens of their neighbors on Sunday for a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. Today we hear from Emilé Newman.
Emilé Newman, right, says she and other people of color are exhausted "carrying the torch" and she hopes more white allies will take a stand against systemic racism. (Robyn Vincent/KHOL)

All week KHOL is airing thoughts from Jacksonites who protested the death of George Floyd. 

Floyd, an unarmed black man, died after a white Minnesota police officer pressed a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. 

Roughly 150 people peacefully gathered Sunday at Jackson’s town square to denounce Floyd’s death and support the Black Lives Matter movement, one that has shed light on the disproportionate number of unarmed black people in the U.S. killed by police. 

Research shows that every one in 1,000 black men and boys will die at the hands of police. It means they are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men and boys, though black people comprise just 13 percent of America’s population. 

Resident Emilé Newman, an African American, says she attended the protest to speak up for the many people of color targeted by police who can no longer speak for themselves. She was there to demand “real, meaningful change.” 

But as a woman of color, she is skeptical that protesting will spur a shift that leads to less racial violence. She is under “no illusion” that this will spark that change. Still, she said, “we need people to be loud. We need people to be upset. And we need people to really take meaningful action.” 

Newman said she is paying close attention to the civil unrest transpiring nationwide. And she worries about messaging coming from the White House. President Donald Trump, she said, reserves disdainful language for people protesting racial violence, painting such folks with broad brushstrokes. But he doesn’t apply the same criticisms equally to all protesters, she said.

I think it’s really interesting that we have a president that wants to paint people fighting for their lives and fighting for their breath as ‘thugs’ and, you know, as ‘looters,’” Newman said. “And when white people protest about wanting to get out, get their hair done and be able to work their jobs, these are ‘decent people.’ You know, even at an alt-right protest in Virginia, those were ‘decent people,’ but people fighting for their lives are thugs and looters. So we need to be heard. People need to be heard.”

As a black person, Newman says this neverending fight for equality is exhausting but there is no time to be tired while people “are losing their lives.” So now she is looking for reinforcement.

This is a moment white allies can step up and aid weary people of color by acknowledging that black and brown folks have been “carrying this torch,” she said.

As Newman contemplated systemic racism that has impacted the lives of countless people of color, she stumbled over her words.

You can tell these are not well-formed thoughts because this is our lived experience and it’s hard to put it into a soundbyte, into words. You know, I was talking with a friend and I feel kind of numb about it, to be honest. But I’m [expletive] angry. They kept a knee on that man’s neck three minutes after the fact that he had no pulse and was unresponsive. What is that even about? What is that about?” Newman said. “You cannot treat people as less than human and expect to get away with it for long.”

Newman acknowledged that Jackson’s protest was probably “one of the more peaceful protests in the country.”

Amid waves of nationwide protests, some that have turned violent, protesters in Jackson remained calm while a few motorists drove by revving their engines to create thick clouds of smoke around those gathered on town square. People were also unphased by a man in his 60s standing across the street, shouting and uttering expletives. “Look at this Fox News!” he yelled, recording the scene with his phone camera.

Police, meanwhile, kept their distance, avoiding the corner of town square where the largest concentration of protesters gathered.

However peaceful, Newman said right now it is particularly tough to be in a place like Jackson with such a small African American community. “But this is where I am and this is where I can speak up and have a voice. I have mixed feelings about it.”

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn launched KHOL's news department. She has worked as a reporter and editor in Wyoming for the last decade and her work has aired on NPR stations throughout the West. When she's not sweating deadlines, Robyn sustains her nomadic heart by traveling the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow @TheNomadicHeart

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