Tim Slocum didn’t mean to create a movement by kneeling silently on the lawn outside the Historic Cache County Courthouse two months ago. But on the third week of his metaphorical stand, a passerby asked to join him, and Vigil: Because Black Lives Matter was born.
Slocum said his kneeling protest, complete with a patriotic heart and the words Black Lives Matter, is “the best of the American tradition. And we think the country can step up and actually do this very hard thing.”
This Thursday, one day after a crowd of nearly 100 gathered outside the Historic Cache County Courthouse to celebrate women’s suffrage and voting rights, a gathering of 15 locals held a vigil for their weekly ritual of holding a silent protest for justice armed with signs with sayings like “More compassion, not less” and “More justice, not less.”
Though not related to official Black Lives Matter chapters in the state, Slocum said the message is the same, “though completely bizarre that it has to be said (that Black lives matter).
“We just want to make a statement for ourselves that this is important and that we, me, as a white person, stand for this,” Slocum said. “And in this time when so much is going on. It just feels very important to me to publicly show up.”
The murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin sparked the idea, but people continue to join because “every week, it’s something different,” said Sheri Thompson.
“This week, it was the man who was shot in the back in Wisconsin.”
For Wisoconsin-native Vinnie Campbell, the most recent shootings made the event even more emotional.
“I just can’t believe it’s still happening,” he said. “We just want to step up and speak up, in whatever way we can. It needs to stop, and things need to be different.”
Now, Campbell is working with the school board in his hometown — 200 miles away from Kenosha, where Jacob Black was shot seven times in the back on Monday — to create more comprehensive education standards.
“I was raised a certain way, that I only saw one side of history and everything,” he said. “Since moving out of Wisconsin, and living in California for a while, I’ve seen the other side. And it really opened my eyes. But a lot of my friends that are still in the state don’t see that side.”
It’s a similar effort for the members of Vigil, according to Slocum.
A few individuals catcall or harass the protestors every week. But this is an opportunity for education, said the Utah State University professor of special education and rehabilitation counseling, who often speaks to the hecklers to see their point of view.
When a man approached the group on Thursday, questioning whether the phrase “Black Lives Matter” was itself racist, protesters calmly explained it doesn’t mean other lives are worth less, but Black lives are being persecuted with more injustice, from police brutality to the housing market where appraisers will undervalue worth if a home is owned by a person of color.
“We can train to understand their position and they can try and understand ours, and that having a one-on-one conversation really humanizes it,” said vigil participant Amy Odum. “If you show up and people want to engage with you, one-on-one, and hear you and understand your position, then it’s a lot less likely to end up with shouting. But, you know, if people want to come and shout at us, that’s their right.”
While the group has been shouted at, it’s been rare. Usually, conversations occur calmly, like on Thursday where book recommendations, such as Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Anti-Racist” and links to articles highlighting issues faced by Black citizens were shared to bridge the gap between.
Slocum added the confrontations are “an opportunity for me to see ‘how does it feel to be criticized, or to feel unfairly judged.’ I have that in this much of my life. If I was Black, that would be the norm.”
Slocum said the event, which is held from 6-7 p.m. every Thursday, will occur indefinitely as “it’s gonna take more than a couple weeks to smash institutionalized racism.”