James L. Simmons Jr., Vice President of the Pikes Peak Southern Leadership Conference stood at the podium on Sunday evening after he and a group of allies silently walked through downtown Casper in an effort to address the killings of unarmed Black men by police. As he stood at the podium and looked across the crowd, he told a story.

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“I’d just like to start out by saying that [on] Friday, a 12-year-old boy committed suicide down in Colorado Springs,” he started. “His peers kept referring to him as a racist. ‘You’re a racist, you’re a racist.’ Finally, his little soul couldn’t take anymore, so Friday morning he came into school. He proclaimed that he wasn’t a racist and he walked outside of the school building and he shot himself.”

It was not an expected opening to the vigil that was referred to on its flyer as a ‘Speak the Peace’ silent vigil for justice.

Last week, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of three counts of murder. Those counts were second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. In May of 2020, Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck during an arrest and held it there for 9 ½ minutes, as Floyd continually stated that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd eventually died on the sidewalk, at the officer’s knee.

As Chauvin stood trial, another black man named Daunte Wright was fatally shot by police officer Kimberly Potter during a traffic stop, according to the New York Times.

These incidents, and many others, have shined a spotlight on the justice system, specifically the alleged structural racism in policing.

The vigil in Casper on Sunday was designed to showcase unity in a fight for justice.

“It was called a silent vigil," said RC Johnson, another speaker at the event. “But I can’t be silent. We have just had a monumental judgment, with Chauvin being convicted of murder on three counts. And for some reason, we’re supposed to be silent? This is a time for more action and more activity. There’s no way to be silent at this point.”

During Simmons’ speech, he noted that the Chauvin verdict was not the end of a fight for justice; it wasn’t even a beginning. It was only a small part.

“The George Floyd murder shocked the conscience of the world,” Simmons stated. “The verdict was not of justice. The trial was one of accountability. Racism is transferable and transmittable. We’re being hunted and killed without having a weapon. And so, now we’re hurting. We’re hoping and we’re hurting.”

His words echoed through the night, though the crowd for this particular event didn’t even come close to the size of a similar march that happened in downtown Casper last summer.

“This racism thing is real in this country,” Simmons said. “I was born and raised in the south. I saw that racism. But as my boss would say (he was a cop too…He never behaved in the matter that he’s seen cops behave today. He spent his whole career and never pulled his service revolver. He talked his way through things. He told me he had to use his taser a few times, but he never pulled his service revolver.), ‘This new revolution must start in the heart, that will lead to reconciliation and not revenge.”

The crowd applauded what Simmons had to say, but it was Johnson who captured the spirit of the evening.

“Let’s not be silent,” she said. “Let’s not close our eyes and close our mouths. Let’s keep agitating for change. Maybe what we don’t need is a police department, but a department of public safety.”

The Casper Police Department were present for the event, however. They blocked off roads, kept the peace as a group of hecklers tried to disturb the peace, and even applauded the words of those who spoke. Simmons, himself, offered much gratitude to the Casper Police Department and, in his closing remarks, offered a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“We must live together as brothers, or we will die together as fools.”

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