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‘I am not a threat’: Thousands march in Columbia to protest police brutality, death of George Floyd

As Black Lives Matter protests expand outside major cities in the country, thousands gathered in the parking lot of the AMC Columbia 14 movie theater on Tuesday afternoon to participate in a youth-led march and vigil to “honor George Floyd and all the victims of police brutality,” according to organizers.

The large group of mostly young people met around 4 p.m. and marched from The Mall in Columbia to the Columbia Lakefront in a peaceful protest, organized by HoCo For Justice, over the death of Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police last week.

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As the group got ready to start its march, signs could be seen reading, “I am not a threat” and “We matter.”

Protesters in Baltimore have gathered since Friday to express their anger over Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd, who was black, died after a white police officer pinned him to the ground by his neck for nearly 9 minutes. Cellphone videos captured Floyd’s pleas of “I can’t breathe,” which has become a common message used on signs and in chants during protests. The Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, has been fired and charged with murder.

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Shanelle Harrison, a lifelong Howard County resident, was among the crowd of protesters, carrying a sign that read, “Where is the vaccine for racism?”

“Racism is a plague that has been around for hundreds of years,” Harrison said. “You have people protesting for their lives. I don’t think we should have to protest for our lives.”

Youth-led group march through Baltimore to protest George Floyd's death in Minnesota.

Harrison, a Wilde Lake High School and Morgan State University graduate, attended a protest in Baltimore on Saturday. She said it’s crucial for the protests to trickle outside of the cities and urban centers. She’s frustrated, however, that this is one of the first major protests in Howard County.

“I’ve lived my whole life in Howard County. The only time [Howard County residents] organized a protest [like this] was when the redistricting protest happened,” she said, referring to the comprehensive schools redistricting process that was approved by the county Board of Education in November. Several protests were held over several weeks as the board discussed the plan.

There also was a Black Lives Matter protest and vigil on Sunday at the Gorman Road overpass for Interstate 95 near North Laurel, which included about 50 vehicles in a caravan.

At times on the mile-long walk to the Columbia Lakefront, the group stopped to allow protesters to catch up, taking the moments of stillness to shout the names of black Americans killed by the police. As organizers in red vests led the crowd down Little Patuxent Parkway, fists pumped in the air and signs waved in support of the chants.

Once the group arrived at the waterfront, protesters packed the area. The crowd began singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at one point before speakers started to give their remarks.

Among the multitude of prepared speakers, Gina Best moved to the front with a framed photo of her daughter India Kager.

Kager and her partner, Angelo Perry, were killed in 2015 by police in Virginia Beach after officers fired 30 rounds at the couple in their vehicle with their 4-month-old son in the back seat. The child was not injured.

“I wanted to take a minute to tell you what it takes to survive. Our children are being reduced to hashtags,” said Best, of Columbia. “I labored her in birth, and I’m laboring her in death.”

As Best concluded her emotional speech, march organizers shouted, “Say her name!” and the crowd responded, “India Kager!”

Several of the march’s organizers also spoke to the crowd.

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“The revolution did not just start. It just started getting videotaped,” said one of the organizers, who declined to give their name, citing safety concerns. “We youth are not living in this world; we are surviving.”

Baltimore Sun Media content editor Erin Hardy contributed to this article.

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