Hundreds gathered in Sammamish on June 4 to show support for Black Lives Matter and raise awareness for police brutality and racial inequality. The protest, like many others happening worldwide, was sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer.
Although some residents feared possible violence and looting, the event remained peaceful. It began at Sammamish Commons, with organizers and participants speaking to the crowd with a megaphone. They outlined their reasons for protesting and shared personal stories and messages. Protesters then took to the streets to march through parts of central Sammamish and surrounding neighborhoods. Along the four-mile route, participants waved signs and chanted slogans.
Sammamish Police closed roads to clear a safe path for the protesters. Some cars honked and cheered as the protesters walked by. When the procession passed by homes, a few residents shouted their support and handed out water bottles to the marchers.
The event was organized by a group of teens and led by Maddie Grasso, a 15-year-old student from Skyline High School. Maddie and her close friends could not attend recent demonstrations in Seattle or Bellevue, so they wanted to organize an event locally to show their support.
“I think it was so important to have a protest in Sammamish because I believe we live in a place where worldly issues stay out of our Sammamish bubble,” Grasso said. ”Our voices make an impact just as much as the ‘big city voices,’ and just because we don’t face police brutality as much in Sammamish doesn’t mean we don’t have a reason to protest the bigger issue of systemic racism.”
Grasso had expected a modest turnout. Sammamish Police estimated between 400 to 500 people participated. Other organizers believe the crowd topped 1,000 at its peak.
Amin Sidialicherif, 17, a Skyline student, also helped to organize the event. He said the response exceeded his wildest expectations.
“Most of us are white, and we have the privilege of never having to worry about these issues,” Sidialicherif said. “A peaceful protest not only brought the community together in a way we have never seen before, but opened our eyes, including myself, to how passive we often are in Sammamish and how we need to be doing more.”
According to the 2010 Census, Sammamish is 75 percent White, with African Americans making up only 1 percent of the population. The organizers hoped the protest would amplify the voices of the Black community in Sammamish.
Tiassa Ray, 18, a Trossachs resident, attended the Seattle protests earlier this week before demonstrating in Sammamish. Ray said the Sammamish event was the most peaceful protest she had attended so far, and was amazed at the large turnout.
“It was a powerful movement with lots of beautiful people a part of it,” Ray said. “I hope the government sees what the citizens are doing and takes positive action to fix systemic racism.”
While most protestors were young adults, numerous families also attended. There were young children, and even dogs, marching.
Jeannie Sprague, 44, a Renaissance Ridge resident, attended the protest with her husband and children. Her family is multiracial, and she said it was important for their voices to be heard.
A close friend encouraged Sprague, who was reluctant to speak, to share her family’s story. She took the megaphone and described how her two sons had been singled out at school because their hair looked different. Sprague reminded the crowd that racism does exist in Sammamish and advocated for parents to teach their children how to respect these differences. During the march, Sprague pointed to her sons to look at the traffic jam they caused.
“I told them, see how those cars have to stop for us? Now they can’t ignore what we’re saying,” Sprague said.
Dumebi Onianwa, 18, a resident of The Villages, passionately led the chants during the march, naming victims of police brutality one by one.
“When I was leading some of the chants and my voice was getting sore, many people offered me water and some volunteered to take over while I rested my voice before I continued,” she said. “I just liked the feeling of a non-divided community.”
While Onianwa and her friends chanted and held their signs on the sidewalk outside Metropolitan Market, many cars honked their horns in support, but a few drivers shook their heads disapprovingly and used disparaging gestures. One resident was seen heckling the protesters as they passed by her home. Another man nearly started a fight with one protester on 228th Avenue, but he was quickly surrounded by police officers who diffused the tension.
After the march, some protesters regrouped at Sammamish Commons, and lied face down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the same amount of time that George Floyd was pinned down on his neck by the knee of a police officer.
Sammamish Police Chief Dan Pingrey joined the protesters and knelt down on one knee — a sign of support for the Black Lives Matter movement that was first initiated by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The organizers said they hope these conversations around racial injustice will continue in the community.