IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A GLORIOUS DAY, ONE WHERE I COULD EXPRESS MY PASSIONS FREELY AND PUBLICALLY. BUT CLEARLY NOT EVERYONE WAS WITH ME ON THIS...
15 year old Black male
10 year Benicia resident
I am proud to be a Black student at Benicia High School. I love my community and my culture. And I want to live in this City without the experience of bias or racism.
When my mom told me about a public rally to protest racism that was happening in Benicia after the killing of George Floyd, I was excited to go. The need for change was growing, and many of my friends from school would be there. My mom brought my brother, his friend and me downtown to gather at the park. My enthusiasm was growing and the energy felt good as we approached the gazebo.
Most of the bystanders were with us. They were encouraging. Then one shabbily dressed White man, probably in his 40s yelled out, “F*** You! You’re making us look bad!” I felt a surge of anger and started toward him. My brother pulled me back. “This is not the time…” he said. I heard my brother’s words and shook it off. There were other things to do besides mess with this man.
When our group started down First Street, it was exhilarating. Our energy grew with every chant. Black people, White people, young people, and old people. We were together in this. When another White man yelled out “Make America Great Again,” to counter our efforts at the bottom of First Street, our chants of “No Justice, No Peace” drowned him out.
We rounded the corner and headed past the police station, making our way back to the gazebo. And when we got there, we didn’t feel complete, so we decided to do a second pass. This time, as we approached the police station, the police were with us, too. They all knelt - some of them hesitating - but they all knelt! I felt empowered and had a new respect for the Benicia police. Our movement was supported by them! When we got back to the park after the second round, I was pumped. This was how it should be! Our voices were heard!
But then everything changed. A black truck, coming down Military from East Second, headed towards the park. The driver, a White man in his 30s, called out something that I didn’t hear. A young White male protestor approached his truck. I don’t know what was said, but it didn’t go well. After the exchange, the young man walked away in anger, and the driver turned his attention to the rest of our group, “You all are making Benicia look bad. Get out of this country!” As a group we started chanting, “Say his name - George Floyd!” and started towards the truck. “Oh, you want me to say his name?” the man called out. “I’ve killed N***s before,” and he picked up a handgun and pointed it in our direction.
I didn’t know what to do. No one had ever threatened me with a gun before. Our group, which was mostly young people, scattered. The man drove off, but the mood changed. We went from feeling powerful and strong to feeling frightened, overwhelmed and angry in a matter of seconds. It was proof of how racism still exists and the power it has even when expressed by one individual.
Luckily someone had the good sense to film the incident with their phone, The police responded quickly, and charges were eventually brought against the man. But although the video was visually clear, it was not able to capture his words, and so they were unable to charge him with a hate crime. Instead, he has been charged with unlawfully brandishing a weapon at a peaceful protest. I only hope that this man and others who hear my story know that racism will no longer be tolerated.