Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum on Saipan

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WEARING face masks, around 200 community members lined up on Beach Road in Oleai Friday evening to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

They joined the many Americans and other people all over the world who were outraged by the death of George Floyd while being restrained by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, despite Floyd repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.”

Friday’s demonstration on Saipan was peaceful and non-violent, with individuals from diverse backgrounds showing up to protest racism and injustice.

Community member and retired educator Ambrose M. Bennett told Variety on Friday that the demonstrations are not just about George Floyd, but also about the countless African-Americans who have died while in police custody “and nothing was done about it.”

Bennett said he was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, that marched with the rest of Civil Rights Movement led by now U.S. Congressman John Lewis. Bennett said they marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and heard his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

“We need to raise awareness here [in the CNMI] so that this never happens here, [and] to keep our police and our lawmakers aware that we need to protect people,” Bennett said. “We don’t have any hate crime laws here, and that needs to be [fixed]. White supremacy is a real thing in America. We need to wake up to it and try to get rid of it because white supremacy has no place in a nation of equality.”

When asked about his experiences with law enforcement in the states compared to the CNMI, Bennett said, “I have never encountered any kind of racism with police officers here. In fact, they treat me very graciously and even call me ‘Mr. Bennett.’ But it only takes one bad apple, and that’s what I worry about.”

He said there is still a lot of work to be done in the Commonwealth, which, he added, is “suffocating under the administration.”

Zoe Travis, the first on Saipan to publicly demonstrate in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, noted the big increase in the number of demonstrators since the first one-person protest action on island.

“It’s just very overwhelming, the number of people who are here tonight. This has got to be a solid chunk of the entire CNMI population out here. I want to remind everybody that we are doing the bare minimum here. I don’t expect to be violently interrupted by the police right now. I don’t expect to be tear gassed. I don’t expect to have rubber bullets shot at me right now. I’m just here voicing my support,” Travis said, drawing attention to the countless nonviolent protesters in the states who have received pushback from law enforcers.

Travis said they will continue to demonstrate until Monday, for a total of eight days, one for every minute that Floyd was held in restraint by police.

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