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No one should be afraid to walk

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“I’ve never felt safer.” I pulled my mask down and leaned over to yell in my friend’s ear during the #BLM march in Rifle last month. 

As I said it, there were half a dozen Harleys revving past us as we marched along the sidewalk and police from several municipalities stationed at each intersection. Rifle may only be 40 miles from Carbondale, but it felt like we had traveled to another world. 

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Trump supporters showed up in droves; decked out with black and blue flags, “enough bullshit” banners, and semi-automatic weapons. They lined the other side of the street while the bikers lapped us, speeding ahead to stop in each parking lot and rev their engines, creating clouds of exhaust and hella noise pollution. I loved every minute of it.

I honestly felt like we were all there for the same thing, acknowledgement.

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As I marched along the designated path, I also pulled my mask down to thank the police officers. Their job is simply to protect and serve us all. That’s it. But in a society that does not openly address its “isms” — much less promote de-escalation and collaboration, the police bear the brunt of it. And with such an ignorant racist president, we are all caught in the crossfire.

Walking down that sidewalk in Rifle, I looked across the street to see my fellow Americans reacting to a perceived threat: us. A bunch of men and women, young and old, all wearing black shirts and marching for justice. How do we continue to let an archaic system segregate us, when in fact, we all want the same things: life, love, and liberty. 

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#BLM protesters do not hate the police; we want accountability across the board. And just because we don’t wear the flag doesn’t mean we don’t respect all it stands for. This country belongs to each one of us, and it is our duty to acknowledge systemic faults and change them. I mean, isn’t that Biker 101? Since when do American outlaws stand up to defend a fat-cat golfer who hides in the swamp?

My stepfather, Jose ‘Cande’ Gomez, was a sheriff. He also rode a Harley— which explains why I only felt love when I heard those engines roar. I envisaged Cande and his friends riding alongside us as we marched, protecting us and our right to demonstrate in the country we all love to live in. 

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We are marching to bring attention to the corruption and injustice, nothing new there. The legacy of the United States is a struggle for egalitarianism, and it continues today. But the country’s gone so pear-shaped that we think our enemy is the guy on the other side of the pot-holed street, instead of the antiquated wealth-consumed system of paving oppression. A system that we will continue to protest until we bring about equality, because no one should be afraid to walk down the street in America.

“It’s my face man
I didn’t do nothing serious man
please
please
please, I can’t breathe
please man
please somebody
please man
I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe
please
(inaudible)
man can’t breathe, my face
just get up
I can’t breathe
please, a knee on my neck
I can’t breathe
shit
I will
I can’t move
mama
mama
I can’t
my knee
my neck
I’m through
I’m through
I’m claustrophobic
my stomach hurt
my neck hurts
everything hurts
some water or something
please
please
I can’t breathe officer
don’t kill me
they’re gonna kill me, man
come on man
I cannot breathe
I cannot breathe
they’re gonna kill me
they’re gonna kill me
I can’t breathe
I can’t breathe
please sir
please
please
please, I can’t breathe”

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— George Floyd 

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