'Say her name': Central York student leads protest for Breonna Taylor
Central York High School senior Unique Fields led a group of 30 people through downtown York on Monday in a march for justice for Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her home by police.
The protest follows a Kentucky grand jury's decision on Wednesday not to indict any officers for Taylor's death in March in Louisville, Kentucky.
Though there was national outrage over the killings of George Floyd and other Black men by police, there was not as much of a reaction for Taylor — and Black women cannot be ignored, Fields said.
“We believe that Black women specifically have not had enough light shed on them, so this is a way for us to express and support Black women,” the 18-year-old said.
Fields also was part of a protest a week earlier at his own district's administration building, urging his school board to support more diversity.
Though the Central protest — to hold board members accountable for speaking out against Black Lives Matter course resources — was not the impetus for Monday’s demonstration for Taylor, Fields said seeing his community taking action did give him an extra push.
Walking from Penn Park to the York County Judicial Center and the York City Police Department, Fields and a co-organizer, Temple University student Meishaa Bartley, 19, received honks of support as they shouted, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
York City resident Tiffany Neal, 37, and her daughter Lauren Marimenjivar, 14, heard about the event on Facebook and came out not just for Taylor but for all those disenfranchised who do not have a voice.
“It’s bigger than her really. It’s about all of us — all people of color,” Neal said. “She very well could have been me."
And Taylor's story still hits close to home in York City, protesters said, as they spoke of passive racism, problems with police unions and police brutality.
“It’s an issue that needs to be heard everywhere, not just big cities,” said Paige Shiffler, 17.
As the protesters left Penn Park about 6 p.m. Monday, Fields called for the Black women among them to lead the charge because it was their time to be heard.
They carried a "Black Lives Matter" banner down Beaver and Market streets and later spoke about the struggle of being constantly undervalued in modern culture and seen as lesser than their white counterparts in beauty and capability.
And if that weren't enough, they also have to fear for their lives, said Sheena Fountain, of Hellam Township.
"I know fear. I know fear because I am a Black woman raising Black children in a world where people who look like them — people who look like me — are killed in cold blood and justice never comes to pass," she said.
Fountain said she refuses to "become a hashtag" as Taylor did when she was killed by police.
Jamiel Alexander, a member of the York City General Authority board, urged people of color to vote so they could begin to see real changes, noting that as a Black man, he once saw no point in voting within a broken system.
"We have to put our people in places to change these laws," he said. "What’s that day-to-day grind? What are we doing to effect change really?"
One of the changes that Fields hopes to see is "defunding" the police — a term he said has had its share of misconceptions.
"We’re not saying defund the police to get rid of the police," he said. "We say defund the police because time and time again, police officers are called to situations that police officers don’t need to be called to."
Mental health episodes, for example, would be better suited for professionals who know how to deescalate those situations — leaving Black people less likely to become a hashtag.
York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said he hopes to work together with the community to improve the police department, but he would say reform, not defund, the police — as he’s aware that term can be confusing.
But he agrees with the idea of reallocating resources and urged people of color to apply for city positions so their voices could be represented and change would begin to take hold.
"I'm here because obviously when innocent people are getting killed, there's a broken system," Helfrich said.