Over 300 community members protested for racial equality Friday evening on the four corners of Eatonville’s Washington Avenue and Center Street.
The event brought high schoolers, workers, retirees and veterans together in a peaceful demonstration. Among the protesters were teachers, nurses, firefighters, Eatonville School District Chairman George Lucas and the democratic candidate for Pierce County Council's third district, Yanah Cook.
“What a turnout for a small town,” wrote protest organizers and Eatonville residents Jake and Kristin Pool on Facebook. “We can not thank everyone enough for all the amazing support online and on the sidewalks!”
Eatonville’s protest was one of hundreds that took place in cities across the nation, many which have been taking place daily since former police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd was one of many black men who have been killed by police in recent years. Hundreds of thousands of individuals have taken to the streets in support of black lives.
Kristin Pool said she and her husband have wanted to join the protests in bigger cities to show support for racial equality, but wanted to see something happen locally. When the idea to host something in Eatonville came up, they both approached the idea cautiously.
Although she would have been fine with attending an event about racial equality in Seattle, Kristin Pool said she was nervous about having one locally.
“If I am nervous about having or attending an event about racial equality in my own community but would be completely fine with attending it in Seattle, there is clearly a problem deeper than we realize,” Kristin Pool said.
She said her goal was to show support for minorities and to open dialog with others. She admitted that for a long time she believed she did not have any biased feelings but has recently dug deeper within herself and realized everyone has implicit biases based on experience.
“It’s embedded,” she said. “We all have embedded biases. We just need to acknowledge that it is present — every day we have an opportunity to make things better.”
June 8, the Pools officially decided to host the protest, and June 9 they informed the Town Council and Eatonville Police Department. Both gave their blessing and announced the event in a post on Facebook.
“Eatonville’s government officials fully support their right to peacefully express their opinions under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” EPD wrote. “We do not have to agree or disagree with the cause or message, but we must remain respectful.”
The organizers of the protest announced the event to several Facebook groups June 10, and people quickly responded. Many community members supported the protest, but many were loud about their disapproval. The post was removed from the Eatonville Heads Up Facebook page because of its political nature, however, after several complaints of censorship, administrator William Lewis allowed the announcement and debate to remain until after the event.
“We expected some kind of ripple effect in our community, but we didn’t expect quite as much,” Kristin Pool said.
Despite the negative feedback, Friday’s event took place as scheduled. Several trucks coal rolled exhaust into the crowd during the first hour. Others sped past the display in disapproval, and profanity was yelled toward the crowd from some passing by. EPD officers pulled over at least two vehicles during the event to the crowd's approval. Officers also deterred an older white man who was open carrying a pistol and staring at the crowd from a distance.
Though several negative reactions were received from passers-by, the demonstration continued for three hours without incident, and numerous motorists showed their support by honking and waving as they drove by.
“One gentleman … rolled down his window and told us how he thought what we were doing was beautiful,” local resident Arlene Olson said. “He actually started crying as he drove away saying ‘thank you, thank you so much.’ ”
Protesters displayed signs stating “Black Lives Matter,” “All Lives Matter,” “We support EPD,” “Peace and justice for all” and variations of antiracist slogans. Several individuals stopped to engage in dialog and others shared why they were there.
“I came from a racist household, but you don't judge someone by the color of their skin,” resident and veteran Chuck Williams said. “You judge them by their character and what’s in their heart.”
Williams brought several children and grandchildren with him to the protest in a display of breaking the cycle of racism, he said. Some community members, however, wrote in Facebook comments that blatant racism and systemic racism no longer exist in today's society. One local student said he has been the target of racism, however.
Jayden Lebron, a black middle school student, held a sign that read, “I should not fear walking down Center Street!”
“He (Jayden) left the school this winter because of the racism and has been homeschooled since,” his mother, Heather, said.
Another student from Eatonville High School, Paige Albaitis, said others have also left school because of racist comments.
“At the high school it (the N word) is just very often said,”Albaitis said. “I personally know people of color who have left the school because they were harassed by racial slurs.”
Olson said the protest made a difference for many people in the community.
“It made a difference to the young adults out there who stood up for something important to them, who now know that they have a community to have their back,” she said. “And it most definitely made a difference to those in Eatonville who are sadly affected by racism, to know that we do love and care for them.”
Kristin Pool said this time in history is an opportunity to stand strong for minorities and for racial equality. The Pools hope, by making a stand and having community members' voices heard, the generational cycle of racism and systemic racism can be brought to light in Eatonville and across America.
“It (racism) is generational and ingrained. Every day we get a little bit better, but we have a long way to go,” Kristin Pool said.