On Riverside Drive the evening of June 19, at the intersection by Walmart, over 100 masked protesters knelt in silence on the hot pavement.
They remained down for eight minutes and 46 seconds–the amount of time for which Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on George Floyd’s neck.
“If that felt like forever to you, I want you to remember that that is how long George Floyd begged for his life,” protest organizer Mayala Peixinho told those assembled as they began to stand.
To demand racial equality and justice, and to honor Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many other Black people who have been killed at the hands of police, the protesters had gathered earlier that evening at the Hunter Ford building in Española.
The date for the event was carefully chosen–Peixinho was planning to hold a Black Lives Matter march the weekend before, but then fellow organizer Willie Williams asked her to wait till June 19–Juneteenth–to raise community awareness about the holiday.
Juneteenth, known also as Freedom Day and Emancipation Day, is the anniversary of the day Union Army General Gordon Grainger, in 1865, marched into Galveston, Texas and announced that all enslaved people were free.
The announcement came two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but Union forces did not manage to enforce it in Texas until Juneteenth.
“This is a day of freedom,” Williams said, as she told the crowd of marchers what happened on that day many years ago.
Before the mural of Victor Villalpando, who was shot and killed by a police officer six years ago, they held up effigies and signs that read, “Black Lives Matter.”
“I’m Native American, I’m a person of color, and although I’ll never understand the struggles that Black people go through, I want to be here to support them, Black people and people of color,” Pojoaque Middle School student Tristan Rogers said.
Peixinho said she and fellow organizers and activists want to see reform in local police departments.
At the Rio Arriba County level, after a County Health Council meeting, a task force is forming to address police brutality and to create the possibility for social workers and therapists to respond to some emergency calls, instead of police.
Numerous County Health and Human Services officials and employees, including Director Lauren Reichelt and Clinical Supervisor Michelle Peixinho, attended the protest.
Next to the Hunter Ford building, Williams asked those gathered to repeat after her, and as they shouted her words, they took off together up Paseo de Oñate.
“Can I hear you all say Juneteenth? Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Racial equality! To hell with injustice!”
Up Riverside Drive they marched and chanted, asking nearby drivers to honk their horns to show support for Black lives.
New Mexico State and Española police drove ahead, clearing the way for the marchers so that they could fill the street.
“If we stay united and we continue to do things like this as a community, change will happen,” said protester Deantrae Curtis, who led the crowd alongside fellow marcher Thandiwe Seagraves. “And we’re moving in the right direction.”
Seagraves later told those assembled that she is of mixed race, both white and Zulu, and that she cannot cut herself in two “to satisfy the needs of one.”
“My ancestors on my mother’s side have been celebrated for centuries,” she said. “They have statues up in parks, thankfully being torn down, and that is justice. We have statues here in New Mexico of the conquistadors thankfully being torn down, and that is justice. The histories have not been taught evenly.”
Young people yelled, “We’re young, we’re lit, we’re taking over this s***!” while older people who were marching shouted, “We’re old, we’re fit, we’re taking over this s***!”
The march ended in Ranchitos Park, where Azteca dancers taught the protesters to perform a friendship dance.
Local musician David Garcia, who had strummed a guitar as he walked, expressed gratitude for his fellow marchers.
“I want to honor the people that came, our elders, and I want to honor our youth that are acting like elders for us,” he said. “They’re our teachers, and I love you all for being able to teach me a lot of stuff.”