Theresa Johnson sat in the driver’s seat of her small, black sedan in a line of about 1,500 cars in Vancouver during “Car Rally for Black Lives,” hosted by NAACP Vancouver and YWCA Clark County on Saturday. The event supported the Black Lives Matter movement and stood against police brutality.
“This has got to stop,” Johnson said, referring to police brutality. “If significant changes aren’t made, it will continue to happen.”
Johnson, who is black and moved to Vancouver from Baltimore 12 years ago, brought her 14-year-old grandson Sidney Exum to the rally. Johnson said she wanted to show him that “it’s not just people like us” who support the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I think these issues are important, but I was reluctant to come out,” said, who sat in the passenger seat. “But it’s great to see all the people who are fighting for us.”
NAACP Vancouver started organizing the event eight days ago, said Vice President Jasmine Tolbert. The civil rights organization partnered with YWCA Clark County as the day of the rally approached so their resources could be pooled, Tolbert said.
Around 1,500 people registered their vehicles to come show support on Saturday, and it totaled more than 3,000 people who decided to peacefully protest in memory of George Floyd and all black people killed due to racism and police brutality.
The organizations opted for a car rally due to COVID-19.
“People needed something. And apparently, this was that something. People really want to express their support and participate even though we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Tolbert said.
Vehicles started lining up in the parking of Town Center Plaza at 5411 E. Mill Plain Blvd. an hour before the rally’s official start at noon. Attendants were encouraged to stay in their vehicles, which were adorned with themes like “BLM,” painted on windows, “End Police Brutality” and “#saytheirnames.”
Several short speeches were given before the motorcade headed west on East Mill Plain Boulevard to the Port of Vancouver Terminal 1, specifically the parking lot across the street from WareHouse ’23. The speeches were broadcast over the radio on 87.7 FM.
Obie Ford III, associate vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion and Washington State University Vancouver, began by telling the crowd he was a proud black man, to which a chorus of car horns responded.
“Blackness is strength. It uplifts me. It holds me. It consoles me. Blackness is joy. Blackness is love. Blackness is everything. Blackness is visible. Black people are human. Our lives matter,” Ford said.
The exhaustion that black people feel is not rooted in a condition of blackness, he said, but rather it comes from a system of oppression.
Ford said it was critical to continue to speak the names of the black and marginalized people killed in Clark County and nationwide: Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minn.; Carlos Hunter, in Vancouver; Manuel Ellis in Tacoma; Charleena Lyles in Seattle; Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ken. and “the countless unarmed black men and women targeted by deadly violence whose names we know and whose names we do not know.”
He added that people must also speak the names of transgender victims, such as Nikki Kuhnhausen of Vancouver, who was allegedly murdered. Members of the transgender community are being fatally shot or killed by other means at unacceptable rates, particularly transgender women of color, Ford said.
“Their lives matter. Black lives matter,” he said.
JJ Flenke, of Vancouver, said she has wanted to participate in recent protests, but she is at higher risk of illness from COVID-19. She said the rally offered her a way to show support while staying safe.
“I feel hopeful for actual change because of how sustained the protests have been,” Flenke said. “I’m mostly here to show solidarity with the black community and to advocate for reforms to the prison industrial complex.”
Vancouver resident Teresa Terry said she decided to join the rally because the country needs to see justice for police brutality toward black people and other systemic issues caused by white people and racists.
Terry said she liked the idea of the rally because of its size and power to disrupt the status quo.
“I want this to stop the city,” Terry said.
At the least, the line of cars brought traffic to a crawl on westbound East Mill Plain Boulevard for a couple of hours. As the vehicles made their way to Terminal 1, they passed more than 300 protestors gathered in Esther Short Park, waving signs and shouting, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”
Beyond raising awareness, the NAACP is asking people to sign a petition calling for major reforms designed to address racism nationwide. The core reforms requested include deliberate and intentional changes to the criminal justice system that will ensure the protection of black lives, the expansion of the home confinement pilot program under the First Step Act, expansive student loan relief and expansion of Medicaid as a short-term measure to cover healthcare for those who are impacted by the pandemic.
The petition can be found at https://www.naacp.org/campaigns/we-are-done-dying.