Christianne Carrillo and Jennifer Gross listen while Gloria Merry talks to begin the “I Can’t Breathe” vigil held Saturday, May 30 at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park. Most attendees wore masks, many brought protest signs, and the event was peaceful. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Christianne Carrillo and Jennifer Gross listen while Gloria Merry talks to begin the “I Can’t Breathe” vigil held Saturday, May 30 at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park. Most attendees wore masks, many brought protest signs, and the event was peaceful. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Peaceful Juneau vigil held for George Floyd

‘I Can’t Breathe’ event draws violence-condemning crowd

The Juneau event held in observation of George Floyd’s death was a somber, peaceful affair.

Elected officials, residents and law enforcement officers came together at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park for an “I Can’t Breathe” vigil memorializing the 46-year-old black man who died May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck.

While Floyd’s death has sparked nationwide protests and events, some of which have included confrontation, destruction or violence, the most contentious moment of the Juneau event may have been when one leashed dog barked at another dog.

“We’re very fortunate and blessed to be here in Juneau,” said Juneau Police Chief Ed Mercer, who like nearly all attendees was wearing a mask to help prevent spread of the coronavirus.

Mercer said he and other members of the Juneau Police Department were present to show solidarity with residents.

“We don’t tolerate excessive use of force,” Mercer said.

Juneau Police Chief Ed Mercer was among the attendees at the “I Can’t Breathe” vigil held Saturday, May 30 at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Juneau Police Chief Ed Mercer was among the attendees at the “I Can’t Breathe” vigil held Saturday, May 30 at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

While the event, which started at 2 p.m. and was winding down about 40 minutes later, was relatively low-key, it was somber and many in attendance brought signs. “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe” were especially common phrases.

The latter was said by Floyd before his death. They were also famously said by Eric Garner, a black man who died in 2014 in New York after being placed in a chokehold by an officer.

[Vigil remembers lives lost to guns, hopes for improvements]

Both Floyd’s and Garner’s names were among a list of black people killed in high-profile incidents that was scawled in chalk on the park’s pavement.

“I’m here just to show that we are in this community and let people know that our voices matter and for people to stop killing us,” said Jennifer Gross, a black woman in attendance.

Christianne Carrillo, who stood near Gross during the event, said she was present to show support for her friends, community and “everyone that’s died or is dying today.”

The event featured multiple performances of Alaska Native songs sang by members of Yees Ku Oo dance group, a multi-cultural group from Juneau.

Group leader Nancy Barnes said while she and other people singing and drumming were members of Yees Ku Oo, they weren’t formally there as part of the group. They just wanted to be present and show solidarity.

“We wanted to come down here to do this peaceful gathering,” said group leader Nancy Barnes. “It’s really on everyone’s minds.”

An “I Can’t Breathe” vigil held Saturday, May 30, at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park drew dozens of attendees. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

An “I Can’t Breathe” vigil held Saturday, May 30, at Mayor Bill Overstreet Park drew dozens of attendees. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

The event was loosely organized and featured a smattering of speeches and occasional call-and-response chants, including cries of “No justice, no peace.”

Gloria Merry, who prompted the event via Facebook posts, said in an interview the vigil wasn’t intended to be a major event. It was a spinoff of something she saw organized for Fairbanks and wanted to bring to the capital city.

Merry said the purpose of the event was to show support for people grieving in Minneapolis and across the country and bring local focus to a national event.

“What goes on outside of Juneau still affects us in Juneau, and we should be interested in it,” Merry said.

• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt

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