Hundreds gather to protest in front of Farmington mall

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FARMINGTON — The death of George Floyd while being arrested by police in Minnesota prompted hundreds of people to line East Main Street in Farmington on June 1 protesting police brutality and systemic racism. Law enforcement who were at the scene described it as a peaceful protest.

The protest began at 5 p.m. on the sidewalk in front of Animas Valley Mall.

The crowd held up handmade signs and shouted phrases like "Black Lives Matter," "No Justice, No Peace" and "I can't breathe" as vehicles drove by, honking their horns in support of the protesters. A group of protestors made t-shirts with the phrase "I can't breathe" in Diné Bizaad, the Navajo language. The shirts also had" #nativestrong" printed on them. Some protesters hoisted American Indian Movement and Navajo Nation flags.

Farmington joined multiple cities across the United States in the seventh night of protests following the death of Floyd on May 25. Some of those protests led to rioting and looting. As a precaution, Sam's Club, Target and Walmart closed their doors early and empty parking lots were visible from the protest. San Juan County Sheriff's Office vehicles were observed in the parking lots of the closed stores.

Fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in connection to Floyd's death. He is being held in a state prison.

Floyd's death has been ruled a homicide by two separate autopsies as graphic video depicted the 8 minutes and 46 seconds Chauvin had his knee on the victim's neck.

More: George Floyd died from 'asphyxiation from sustained pressure,' independent autopsy says

Nearly three minutes of the video showed Floyd unresponsive.  

During the protest in Farmington, Reisha Lewis-Adams and her sister Rhakel Lewis-Adams both spoke about being Diné and Africa-American.

Reisha advocated for reparations to be paid and denounced President Donald Trump's description of the Minneapolis protesters as "thugs."

Linda Wheelbarger wrote on her sign in black marker that "George Floyd's murder by 4 police officers is unacceptable."

"I just think it's very important for American justice, because there has been systemic racism ever since America was born," Wheelbarger said. "It's gotten worse instead of getting better."

San Juan County Democratic Party Chair Mary P. “MP” Schildmeyer said she thought it was an excellent turnout, stating the county cares about injustice and that black lives matter.

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The protesters observed a moment of silence that occurred during the gathering. During the moment of silence, they turned their back on East Main Street, faced the mall and knelt on a knee or both knees. Some placed their hands behind their backs as if police were detaining them with handcuffs.

San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferarri knelt on one knee during the moment of silence. He and Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe also attended the protest.

Both spoke out on Facebook against the tactics deployed by Chauvin and the three other fired officers who stood by and didn't intervene. 

Ferrari and Hebbe told The Daily Times they were proud of the protesters. Hebbe stated they were hopeful there would be no problems from "any side."

At the end of the moment of silence, protesters rose to their feet and continued their chants against police brutality and systemic racism.

"America has so much blood on (its) hands of innocent people," Rhakel Lewis-Adams said.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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