Protestors in Park Rapids want things to change
"I want people to understand that we are treated differently because of our color. We are. That's happening today." Teresita Equay Diaz, member of the White Earth Nation
Teresita Equay Diaz, a member of the Pine Point community and the White Earth Nation, organized a protest Saturday night to show support for a group of demonstrators who have been on State Hwy. 34 this week to honor the life of George Floyd and stand with minorities.
Earlier in the day, Diaz received a cell phone video showing two young males throwing liquid on demonstrators and laughing.
“I want people to understand that our skin color does not define who we are as a person,” Teresita said. “I want people to understand that we are treated differently because of our color. We are. That’s happening today, and I don’t want it to happen any more. I want people to love. I want people to be happy, not hate, not be racist.”
The small group of protestors included Teresita’s mom, Neegonee, and her sister, Francisca, 9. They gathered on a corner of Hwy. 34 in Park Rapids with signs reading “Love one another” and “I matter.”
Dressed in her powwow regalia, Francisca smiled as she held up the sign she made for the protest: “All skins are in,” with hearts and rainbow colors.
“My sign means all people should be treated the same way, and we all have the same skin but we’re just darker,” she said.
Many of the drivers who passed honked or waved in support, and Francisca smiled and waved back.
Then a driver came by yelling an obscenity at the group.
Francisca’s smile quickly disappeared. “I’m scared,” she said to her mom. “Are they going to hurt us?”
Her smile returned later that evening when a woman passing by gave them umbrellas to keep dry as the rain fell.
“That was pretty special for that kind lady to go buy us brand-new umbrellas,” Neegonee said. “What was really crazy was earlier in the day there were some elders on the corner with another demonstration group, including one with a cane. We went to buy four chairs so they wouldn’t have to stand. And when the rain came we got four umbrellas. For somebody to do that for us was such a good and hopeful feeling that things will change for the better.”
Protestors in Park Rapids want things to change
Neegonee said during the evening demonstrations a couple more drivers yelled racial insults against both blacks and indigenous people.
“When a man driving by Teresita yelled to get a job and contribute to society we reported it to the police officers, and they were so kind,” she said. “They drove by and waved to Francisca.”
Park Rapids Police Chief Jeff Appel said his department hopes these types of incidents will be reported.
“That sort of stuff could be in the realm of disorderly conduct, depending on what they are yelling and who is present,” Appel said. “I think that happening is disgusting. Nobody should be treating other people that way just for expressing their point of view. They have every right to be there. These demonstrators are peaceful. They’re just trying to raise awareness. They’re not causing any trouble. We support that.”
Appel said anyone who sees this type of behavior should try to get a license plate number and description of the vehicle and call 911. “Yelling obscenities that are offensive, especially when there are children there, we’d definitely like a call to report it,” he said.
Appel said, when officers are hired, they go through an extensive application and selection process. “We know these people very well before they even put on our uniform,” he said. “We want everyone in our department to represent our core values and treat all individuals with respect. We also have implicit bias and cultural awareness training every year and an ongoing discussion with our officers at every training we have. I think the whole country’s hurting right now, including law enforcement.”
Appel said his department is aware of the incident of liquid being thrown at protestors and is investigating. “It’s an active investigation, so I can’t comment on it,” he said.
Neegonee said she made amends with one of the men who yelled an insult at their group. “He apologized and became a new friend,” she said.
She is choosing to focus on the good coming out of their demonstration.
As for those who yelled insults, Neegonee said she believes some were just kids being pressured and making stupid decisions.
“They’re weak people running with the crowd,” she said. “I don’t think they stop to think how they make others feel. I forgive everybody and give everybody a second chance. My heart is with everybody. If they took the time to see everybody as equal and accept us for who we are, the world would be a better place. It would be beautiful. It means a lot when somebody gives a smile even. It can brighten somebody’s day. We had a lot of support.”
Fighting for social justice
Lyn Dockter-Pinnick is the leader of the Menahga/Park Rapids Indivisible group that was demonstrating Saturday morning. She said their group supports social justice and climate change issues.
“There’s no doubt there is racism in our community,” she said. “I was there Saturday morning. We had a lot of positive honks. I had an older couple vacationing in Park Rapids come over and thank me and they were thrilled we had people willing to stand up for black lives. We felt that there was much more support than negatives. We felt the community was glad we were there, and I’m proud of that. People donated cases of water and even bought chairs for some of the demonstrators. At times, evil shows its ugly face. We had a few fingers and ‘FUs’ thrown at us. A pickup with a confederate flag in the back drove up and down in front of our protest, which covered three intersections on both sides.”
More information on joining the Menahga/Park Rapids Indivisible Group is available on their Facebook page.