LOS LUNAS — As they walked, they said their names — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Philando Castile and many more.
Nearly three dozen people gathered at Heritage Park in Los Lunas on Saturday evening to remember the numerous Black men and women who have been killed by law enforcement officers over the years.
The vigil, organized by Deidra Velasquez, was a peaceful call to attention to police brutality across the country.
“We do not speak for Black Lives Matter and this is not a Black Lives Matter protest,” Velasquez wrote on the description of the event on Facebook. “We can best act as allies by amplifying black voices and showing our community that we cannot abide by the current system.”
During the vigil, Velasquez said the struggle for black freedom and liberation was that of Latino and indigenous communities as well.
“This is our struggle, too. This is not a celebration but to show solidarity of what whites and non-blacks can do to use our privilege, to take direct action,” she said. “When this is over, we must not pat ourselves on the back. This fight has just begun.
“We will now observe 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence for George Floyd, the amount of time it took Derek Chauvin to kill him.”
Chauvin is the former Minneapolis police officer charged with second-degree murder for the death of George Floyd after he was filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest in late May.
Village of Bosque Farms native and now New Mexico state auditor Brian Colón attended the vigil, bringing the message that it was time to listen and learn, to do better and take action.
“For the last two weeks and six days, I have taken every opportunity to think and learn; this is a time to listen,” Colón said. “As a man of color who presents without color, I don’t know what it means to be a black woman or a black man.
“We’ve had 600 years of institutionalized racism. I’ve avoided the difficult conversations. Now that I am listening, now that we’ve stopped and said what is our part in this culture, whether it’s daily micro aggressions from us or overt acts by people of power, I bring this message — it is no longer OK to be neutral. Neutrality is not an option. It’s not OK to say ‘I’m not a racist.’ We have to say we are anti-racism,’ and stand with you not just today but tomorrow. All lives cannot matter until Black lives matter.”
Colón continued, saying it was no longer enough for people to proclaim they weren’t racist, and point to their one black friend. Not unless they’ve taken the time to have difficult conversations with that friend.
“Ask them, ‘What’s your life experience in Valencia County, New Mexico?’ I haven’t had that conversation, and I need to, so that I will know better and be better,” he said. “That’s my commitment to the men and women of color in this country — to know better so I can be better. Not so I can feel better, but so I can do better.
“All lives matter but you don’t have the right to say that until you’ve stood tall in America and said ‘Black lives matter.’”
When those we pay to protect us kill us, we can’t be silent, was the message from Val Thomas, a student at The University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus.
“Let them hear us roar when we say, ‘Black lives matter,’” Thomas shouted.
Brandon Norine spoke to the crowd, saying he was standing in a place of privilege.
Identifying as queer and Latino, Norine made the point that his skin is whiter than most, something that has worked to his benefit his entire life.
When he was 12, Norine struggled with his mental health and attempted suicide. His therapist at the time told authorities he was a danger to himself and others.
“When I woke up, I was in the hospital, chained to a bed. There were two officers there who interrogated me, questioning me, asking me how dangerous I was. A 12-year-old kid chained to a hospital bed,” Norine said. “And I’m light skinned. That’s the only reason I made it to the bed.”
Hitting his breaking point, Norine said he was done with everything, done with life, and broke down, struggling and fighting the restraints. The officers drew their guns and aimed at him.
As doctors pushed past the officers to sedate Norine, the last thing he remembered was the cops telling the physicians they were lucky they didn’t put him down.
“I will not leave this world without making a positive difference,” he concluded. “And you bet your ass that’s a threat.”