A somber crowd gathered on the courthouse lawn the evening of July 17 to take down the crosses that had been placed there a month ago representing swhose who had died as a result of police brutality.
“My heart was heavy and I just thought its time. It’s time to take the crosses down and move forward toward healing,” William Blackmon told the Journal.
Blackmon reached out on Facebook to see if there was interest in holding a ceremony before removing the crosses.
The event attracted more than 50 people, including the pastor of San Juan Calvery Church Joe Gamez who discussed the importance of kindness, respect and helping one’s neighbors.
“A neighbor is anyone who needs assistance,” Gamez said, continuing to add that the term encompassed anyone downtrodden, oppressed, or in need.
Blackmon also explained he reached out on Facebook first because wasn’t sure how people would react. He was grateful to see a positive response.
Blackmon gave the crowd background to his own life and perspective.
“Back in my younger days I was racist against white people,” Blackmon said, adding that until he moved from Bakersfield California to Sacramento, California, he lumped all white people in with white supremacist groups. In Sacramento, he befriended many whites, he explained.
“I realized there were some pretty cool white people,” Blackmon said as the crowd laughed.
Blackmon moved to the predominately white San Juan County approximately 17 years ago and developed a deep love for the community, he said.
“I haven’t experienced prejudice here the way the way I had in Bakersfield,” Blackmon told the Journal after the event. “I have never had so many people show me so much love. Even the cops here are like my brothers.”
One of his first jobs in Friday Harbor was working at the convalescent center. Blackmon explained that he couldn’t believe how nice everyone was, and how they trusted him with their elderly family members without question.
“I call [locals] ‘My people,’ because they are my people,” he said.
Blackmon continued, saying that seeing the community so upset hurt him, which was one of the reasons why he wanted to hold the July 17 event.
“I would like to see people here relax a little,” he said. “This community is about love and it hurts me to see all this drama going on when it isn’t necessary, but that just my take. I’m going to keep smiling, even if [others] don’t smile back, I’ll do it for them. This is a strong tight-knit community and we could set an example for others.”
His hope is that now that there has been awareness about inequality in the United States, society can come together and work toward true healing.
When asked what that looked like to him, Blackmon responded by saying each person can help in different ways. Locally, bringing young people together by creating something like a YMCA would be helpful on multiple levels. Creating a space for them to interact and have fun together could also keep them from boredom, getting into trouble and perhaps even getting into drugs, Blackmon said.
The crowd kneeled for eight minutes as a tribute to George Floyd. Floyd was a 46-year-old Black man who died after a police officer held him down with a knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The May 25 incident was recorded by witnesses and caused national outrage and protests after video footage went viral.
Both Gamez and Blackmon explained that taking down the crosses in an attempt to move forward is not an attempt to sweep the deaths under the rug and pretend they didn’t happen, but to remember those lives and use their stories as a catalyst toward healing and change.
As people began to remove the crosses, the name on each cross was read aloud. Gamez suggested individuals choose a cross or two to take home, that way people could pray for the family and loved ones of the name on that particular cross.
“We don’t want them to be forgotten,” Gamez said.