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Arms straining aloft, 100s of Tucsonans hold vigil for George Floyd

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After two days of demonstrations hundreds of people attended a vigil for George Floyd at the Dunbar Pavilion on Monday night. - Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, a crowd of hundreds in Tucson raised their fists up in the air, straining to hold a symbol of protest for the same length of time that a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into George Floyd's neck as he lay dying.

Lit by cellphone flashlights and candles, the gesture ended the "Enough is Enough" vigil at the Dunbar Pavilion on Monday evening, organized by some of Tucson's Black leaders to remember Floyd and other African American victims of police violence after a weekend of protests that included vandalism and clashes with police.

At least 800 people listened as about a dozen speakers took to the stage, some spilling out across Granada Avenue. Speakers shared stories of loved ones killed by police officers, while others talked about their fears for their children, and several speakers pushed for political action, telling the crowd to vote in local elections, particularly for Pima County attorney.

In the crowd, people held signs reading, "No justice, No peace," "Enough is Enough," and "Defund the police, fund Black lives." Jeneeh Hill held a sign, "My sons are not prey," while a little girl dressed in black with her siblings held a sign reading simply, "I matter."

Jahmar Anthony gave an impassioned speech about his family fearing for his life these past two days as he joined his Black brothers and sisters on the streets of Tucson, and he highlighted the importance of voting. "How do we change things, Jahmar? We vote!"

Zion Givens, another one of the organizers, said that he is a Black Mexican-American, or "Blaxican" from South Tucson, and that he helped put the event together because he was "tired of waiting."

"I'm tired of waiting—I'm not an organizer, but why not me?" he said. He told TucsonSentinel.com that he expected only 20 people to show up in part because a flyer made it appear that TPD was a sponsor of the event, leading to confusion and scorn. Givens said that it was a "marketing error" that included TPD's logo on the event flyer, and that organizers did not want police officers there, especially officers in uniform who might have scared people away.

Givens said that organizers had an open line of communication with Police Chief Chris Magnus, and instead of police, organizers depended on private security to keep areas clear.

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Doing this helped keep their message of unity and protest. "We needed to be heard," Givens said.

Floyd's death has prompted a national outcry after video showed him pinned to the ground by four police officers, including one later identified as Derek Chauvin. In the video, Chauvin forces his knee into the man's neck for more than eight minutes, as the 46-year-old man pleads for his life, telling the officers "I can't breathe."

Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, and all four officers have been fired. Hennepin County's prosecutor said that he "anticipates charges" for the other three officers.

In Tucson, protests over the weekend led to at least $200,000 in property damage and 19 arrests, Tucson police said. After a peaceful protest in Downtown Tucson shifted to vandalism, as demonstrators also smashed windows, set fire to dumpsters, and tagged several buildings, including the Tucson Police Department headquarters, with graffiti. The next night, a peaceful protest went through the night, but late Saturday protestors again clashed with police, with some attempting to break past TPD's lines into downtown, as the officers fired pepperballs at the crowd, and arrested several people.

A weekend of protests and vandalism in Tucson, Phoenix and Scottsdale prompted Arizona Governor Doug Ducey to order a state-wide curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. While Tucson remained quiet Sunday night, in Phoenix hundreds of people again marched to protest police violence.

After the vigil, Anthony and Givens demanded for participants to raise their fists higher and chant, "enough is enough" multiple times. This is what Tucson looks like, they said. "Our voice does matter. Our voice matters," Anthony said.

As the crowd held their arms in the air, some people wavered, while some pushed their arms higher in the air. As the crowd grew silent, one woman yelled, "I can't breathe..

"We're all here for one purpose," said Doris Snowden, president of NAACP in Tucson. She said she was excited to be part of the vigil because it was lead by two young black men, different from her experience where mostly black women have led the movements. She mentioned Rosa Parks among others.

"It's great to see young brothers step-up and organize," she said.

Snowden praised Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and Chief Magnus for showing up to the event as participants and not as speakers. Snowden praised Romero for being excellent to work with, and added that Magnus' attendance was a show of good faith.

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During the vigil, Romero lowered her head, raised her left fist in the air and shined her camera light in the other hand. Meanwhile, Magnus, along with other Tucson police officers attended the event, but wore dark blue polos rather than their uniforms.

"We can organize and protest, but it can be without violence and destruction," Snowden said, adding that the number of people, and diversity of attendees was moving to her because "without each other, we can't make it."

As the event continued, Shannoah Green read the names of Black people killed by police as photographs appeared on an display behind her, and the crowd applauded as she read each one, louder and louder each time.

Carmelita Joseph, 50, and Malik Bush, 20, stood together during the vigil. Joseph had her forehead painted black. Both members of the Navajo Nation, the two women wanted to be part of the vigil. For Bush, the last few months have been difficult, she said, because is both Black and Navajo, she said, and so the large numbers of COVID-19 cases on the reservation and Floyd's death have both felt personal.

"There's a lot of work to do, we have huge numbers of cases of coronavirus, and we were also experiencing the deaths and disappearances of native women," Bush said. Growing up as both Native and Black was very difficult, because she didn't fit in with either group. "Some people thought I was Cuban, or something else, and I just didn't fit in. But, we have to get beyond our differences, we need to stand together.. We're all a part of the human race."

Joseph said that the black paint on her forehead wasn't a Navajo tradition, but it seemed appropriate because "We're at war. This is important."

Stephanie Williams recently moved back to Tucson from Phoenix, where she's spent the last six years. She said it was important for her to join her community during this time because, "We're all impacted by this."

She said it was really great to see such a large and diverse turnout for the vigil. "I had to show up. We really do have to support."

Floyd's murder and the continuous killing of Black men is a "modern day lynching," she said. Even though it doesn't compare to back then, she said, "but, this is our time."

At the end of the vigil, as people went to place candles near a temporary altar that included photo of Floyd and signs, a small group of anti-police activists rushed the stage to denounce police brutality, and argued that people could not rely on "this system" to bring justice. As one of the woman put it, "All cops are bastards," echoing a slogan that has been a part of the protests and has been scrawled on walls across Downtown.

Some of Tucson's Black Lives Matters activists had announced earlier that they would not take part in the vigil because of the association with Tucson police.

"We cannot depend on a system that we have to convince we are human to create justice," said one of the women. As several people in the crowd demanded to "let them speak," organizers and the women argued and forth, illustrating a philosophical schism between those who want to work within the system, using voting and non-violent protests to bring change, and those who believe that aggressive, even violent action is necessary.

As the event came to a close, organizers urged the crowd to head up before the 8 p.m. curfew, as a few in the crowd began to plan for another protest during the night.

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