Story and photos by Amanda McKnight
Shakopee youth took to the streets Saturday afternoon after a short gathering in Huber Park to protest systemic racism and police brutality.
Shakopee students Soleil Anthony and Chloe Witherington, who both just finished their freshman year, organized the protest thinking maybe 20 people would show up.
“The turnout was amazing. We are super proud of everyone that came,” Anthony said. “Everyone was nice and supportive. Everyone was so passionate about it.”
Shakopee Schools Superintendent Mike Redmond came out, too, and sat in the back of the group at Huber Park to observe before the protesters started marching.
“As an educator, I always want to hear the voices of my students. As a former social studies teacher, I’m particularly interested when students engage in civic discourse,” Redmond said. “I was very impressed by what I observed and what I heard from our students. Our students showed an appreciation and respect for community values as they also shared their voices about the type of society in which they expect to live. A society that no longer tolerates any form of racism or racial injustice.”
As the group marched along First Avenue in Shakopee chanting, “No justice, no peace, prosecute the police,” they were greeted by supportive honks and thumbs up from passing drivers.
Anthony and Witherington started throwing around the idea of a protest earlier this week. It grew legs as a flyer they made started circulating around social media.
Both students had been feeling helpless and restless watching the Minneapolis protests from afar in the days following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Witherington’s mom is recovering from leukemia, so the teen didn’t want to risk COVID-19 infection being in the midst of thousands of people. Anthony said she has asked her parents daily if she can go to Minneapolis to protest, but they are also uncomfortable with the risks related to COVID-19 and police violence.
“We wanted to make a change, and we wanted to do something more than just post on social media,” Anthony said.
Witherington said she felt frustrated after exhausting her activism on social media.
“I had been reposting Instagram stories and Instagram posts just to spread awareness, and I was signing petitions and emailing and doing as much as I could somehow,” she said. “I got to a point where I had done everything that I could have, except for maybe donated because I don’t have a bank account. I felt really helpless. It felt like nothing I did would directly affect anything.”
Anthony, who is multiracial, said she wants to see global, systemic change, as well as local change. No matter where you go, she said, there are people who are underinformed about police brutality and how it disproportionately affects people of color.
“I definitely think there needs to be some local change. I see people posting about the George Floyd situation and police brutality and they’re completely misinformed. I stand with this movement because I know it’s the right thing to do. The Black Lives Matter movement is based on facts about oppression,” Anthony said.
Both Anthony and Witherington agree that public schools should be teaching more about systemic racism and police brutality so people learn from an early age how the two are interconnected.
“In Shakopee I think more awareness could be spread in schools. We didn’t really talk about Black History Month in school, and that I think should be talked about because it isn’t talked about enough,” Witherington said.
Above all, though, both youth organizers want to see systemic racism addressed.
“I have all these friends and family too, my dad is half-Mexican, and they are treated differently too,” Witherington said. “I can’t do anything to take their pain away, I just want to help it somehow.”