In the end, Malia Taylor just felt like she had to do something.
On Saturday morning at the Mistlin Sports Park in Ripon, that something culminated into hundreds of people peacefully assembling to stand up against injustices across the country in a Black Lives Matter protest event – motivated, she said, by the brutal death of George Floyd while handcuffed on a Minneapolis street last month.
While it took more than a week of her life to pull together and spurred some uncomfortable exchanges with members of her own community that didn’t understand why such a thing was necessary in a place like Ripon – worries that were fueled primarily by images of rioting and looting in major metropolitan areas around the country – Taylor and a team of other Black Lives Matter volunteers united church groups, families, friends, strangers, and the wider Ripon community to stand together as part of a wider movement.
“I’ve gotten this comment multiple times – ‘Why Ripon? I mean, there’s only a handful of black families in Ripon, so why do we need one here?’” Taylor told the crowd during her remarks Saturday morning. “Comments like this are exactly why we need one here. We are so fortunate to live in a safe town and environment. Every night, most of us get to come home to our families in our well protected homes and wake up the next morning with no worry or thought in our mind that we might be murdered that day because of the color of our skin.
“This isn’t the case for victims like George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Oscar Grant, Stephon Clark, and hundreds of other victims of injustices in the black community.”
The event, which featured the hundreds of people in the park’s main basin spread out to cover roughly one-third of the expansive grassy area to comply with social distancing recommendations, included speakers like Modesto City Schools trustee John Ervin, Manteca Unified principal Jacalyn Davis, Ripon resident Victor Ramirez, and Manteca’s Sharon Washington-Barnes – who had successfully organized a massive peaceful protest event that included marching down a main thoroughfare in Manteca earlier in the week.
Pastor Chris Williams of Ripon’s Heartland Community Church gave the event’s invocation, and wrapped up his time at the microphone by calling for an eight-minute and 46 second moment of silence in honor of the amount of time that George Floyd remained prone and handcuffed with the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed into his neck.
Seeing so many people coming together peacefully to stand together was enough to bring one woman in attendance, Ripon resident Carla O. – who asked that her last name not be used – to the verge of tears.
“I wanted to come out and support the movement – we need to come together to show our solidarity to end racism,” Carla said while choking back tears. “I want to be able to look back and say that I stood up and with the people that were calling for much-needed change – it feels good to be here and to see this.”
While other communities in the area have experienced counter-protestors or had attendees there to instigate those that were gathering, Ripon’s on Saturday featured none of that – trading in tense exchanges for warm-wishes and greetings from old friends.
It wasn’t necessarily an easy road to get there, however.
According to Taylor, she had the hurdle of convincing both the City of Ripon and its police department that the event would be the kind of peaceful protest that people are looking for and not something that will descend into chaos. Taylor said that the police, who were in attendance at the event and were posted around the park to provide oversight and security, were wonderful to work with.
Getting over the fears of the community – some of whom boarded up the windows of their businesses – was a different beast entirely.
Taylor addressed some of those hurdles when addressing the crowd on Saturday, rebutting the most common refrain presented by those she said don’t understand the movement that she worked so tirelessly to bring to her community.
“Another comment I’ve been getting is, ‘Well, all lives matter,’” she said. “Well, all lives cannot matter until black lives matter. Black lives have always mattered – we have always been important.
“We have no idea what George Floyd and the hundreds of victims could’ve gone on to achieve in their lifetime, and we never will.”
Another group gathered at the Ripon Police Department on Sunday afternoon and then marched through downtown past a number of boarded up stores and a fenced off Ripon Elementary campus. There was a heavy police presence as well as a number of residents who stood in front of stores.
On Friday the Manteca Civic Center was the scene of a candlelight vigil for Floyd. On Sunday afternoon another group gathered along Center Street in front of the Manteca Police Department holding Black Lives Matter signs.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.