After a week of protests, thousands plan to attend Salem’s Saturday march for George Floyd

Protesters march to the Capitol for a rally and vigil on Monday June, 1. The event was the third day of protests against police violence in Salem. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Saturday could be the biggest march yet in a week of Salem rallies and protests against racism and police brutality catalyzed by the killing of George Floyd.

At noon on June 6, Salem demonstrators will gather on the steps of the Oregon Capitol to hear speeches from local activists and politicians before marching on foot through downtown Salem.

Returning to the Capitol, they will lie on their stomachs for nine minutes in silence – the amount of time bystanders videotaped Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin holding his knee on Floyd’s neck.

Nearly 2,000 people have said they plan to attend on Facebook.

Gregg Simpson, a lifelong Salem resident and music events organizer, began organizing the rally on May 28, before more spontaneous nightly demonstrations at the Capitol began last weekend.

But he said the week of protests hasn’t changed the need for more action.

“It’s really about bringing awareness, protesting against police brutality and racism within the system,” he said.

Simpson has several goals for the event. He wants the march through downtown Salem to serve as a reminder to residents of Floyd’s death. But he also hopes to prompt sustained political engagement in Salem, especially for the younger residents showing up en masse to protests.

“We need to make sure it doesn’t happen here so we’re stepping up to hold our city accountable,” he said.

Young black people are often not encouraged to pursue elective office or get involved in local decision-making. Simpson said people who have directly experienced racism need to be involved in pushing for change.

“I want them to be able to go to the Capitol building, speak to the city officials and get into that environment,” he said.

He hoped the event’s timing, midday on the weekend, would allow more people to attend.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook Friday afternoon in response to citizens writing “Hold Police Accountable” in chalk outside the county courthouse.

“We couldn’t agree more about how important it is to hold law enforcement accountable when people in our profession fail to meet the community’s expectations. Your voice is being heard loud and clear. We plan to be at tomorrow’s rally at the capitol to show our support for accountability and equality throughout our community,” the post said.

Ariel Knox, who serves as the social media director for Salem’s resident celebrity llama, Caesar, is also helping organize the event, including coordinating a voter registration drive with Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess.

Knox, who lives in Keizer, is the parent of mixed race children who are often perceived as white by peers at school. She said they’ve heard classmates speak negatively about black people, not knowing they’re speaking to someone who is also black.

“They hear the most atrocious racist things,” Knox said.

Knox regularly organizes or participates in progressive political events with Caesar and said she was interested in holding a daytime, family-friendly rally following Floyd’s death. She found Simpson’s event on Facebook and offered to help with logistics.

She’s working to make the event as safe as possible given the ongoing spread of COVID-19. Organizers will hand out masks, encourage people to remain six feet apart and sanitize pens for registering voters between uses, she said.

The event will conclude with a car march for high-risk attendees who want to show support without being in a crowd.

Knox said she appreciates Salem police working with organizers, but she wants to see more done to remove “bad apples” from police departments across the U.S., including here.

“There’s been a culture for a long time that has bred this. Otherwise it would have died out,” she said.