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Why they march: Fargo protesters tell what inspired them to join a national movement

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Stephanie Rodriguez talks about why she marches Friday, June 19, in Island Park, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO — Numerous messages rang out from the voices of protesters as they marched through Fargo on Friday, June 19, but one seemed to repeat itself as a plea for those watching from afar to understand: We are human beings, too.

The words came from Fargo resident Lenard Wells, an African American man who asked others to talk with him about why he marches, instead of deeming him "a thug” because of the color of his skin.

“Come and talk to us,” Wells said. “Give us the opportunity to show you who we are.”

The Juneteenth march in Fargo attracted hundreds of people of different races, ages and genders. The Forum asked several protesters what inspired them to join the march and be part of a national movement against police violence.

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Lenard Wells talks about why he marches Friday, June 19, in Island Park, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

'A bigger voice'

Growing up in Chicago, Wells said he was taught to respect the law.

He joined the protests because he wants everyone to be treated equally, for everyone to be held accountable for their actions.

He has two young sons — one is as tall as George Floyd, whose death in the custody of Minneapolis police sparked protests around the world.

“So I fear him being targeted,” he said.

Born in Puerto Rico, sisters Stephanie and Ellimay Rodriguez of West Fargo said they have experienced racism aimed at them throughout their lives.

Stephanie Rodriguez said she couldn’t compare her experience to African Americans, noting that black Americans have been discriminated against for centuries.

“Their voices keep getting shut down over and over, and I feel like they can’t do it alone,” she said. “They need us, and they need everybody, to come out together and fight for them, to give them a bigger voice.”

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Quindlynn Overland from Moorhead attends the Juneteenth March for Justice at Island Park on Friday, June 19. David Samson / The Forum

Moorhead resident and child care provider Quindlynn Overland said she grew up as a poor person. She said she has had several encounters with police, none of which have been a good experience.

“That shouldn’t be the case just because I was poor, or just because my friend next to me was black,” said Overland, a volunteer street medic for Friday’s march. “It shouldn’t matter. I should have the same interaction with them as an upper-middle-class white lady.”

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Erik Ryder of Fargo talks about why he marches Friday, June 19, in Island Park, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Knowing what discrimination is like

Erik Ryder said he has experienced discrimination as a transgender man. He said he was told he couldn’t work at some places unless he acted like a girl. Doctors have said they wouldn’t treat him, he said.

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As a youth worker, he educates others in the metro area about what it’s like being a part of the LGBT community.

“Once people listen to me and hear that I’m a person, they feel a lot better about trans people,” he said.

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Zara Plumlee of Fargo talks about why she marches Friday, June 19, in Island Park. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Zara Plumlee of Fargo said she comes from a small town in Minnesota. As a transgender woman, she wanted to support the movement because they are fighting for the same civil rights the LGBT community is.

She asked people who watch the protests from afar to see demonstrators as individuals.

“I just know what it’s like to be discriminated against, so I wouldn’t want that to be in anyone else’s life either,” she said.

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Tas Starks talks about why he marches Friday, June 19, in Island Park, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Education and understanding

Tas Starks of Lisbon, N.D., said he noticed multiple instances of police brutality in the news without officers being held accountable.

His wife is Puerto Rican, and though his two children have parents of different races, he said his family doesn’t have to deal with as many issues as African Americans since his family has light skin.

He said he doesn’t want a culture of “us versus them,” referring to police versus protesters.

“At some point, we as a people have to stand together and show solidarity in order to show that we are one people,” Starks said. “We need to protect each other.”

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Jake Mullin talks about why he marches Friday, June 19, in Island Park, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Jake Mullin of Moorhead said he joined the protests because he wants to see a restructuring of public safety, adding that he doesn’t think police are the best option to achieve that goal.

“I believe that our communities are safe not because of police but because of other reasons,” Mullin said. “I believe that oftentimes police escalate situations towards violence, towards negative outcomes, especially for people of our community who are black and brown, people of color.”

Mullin asked members of the public to come see the protests for themselves instead of listening to others’ narratives.

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Ellimay Rodriguez talks about why she marches Friday, June 19, in Island Park, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Stephanie Rodriguez said protesters are exercising their First Amendment rights, and they are friendly. Ellimay Rodriguez said she wants readers to make the decision for themselves about what they think of protesters.

She advised others to educate themselves and understand the history of why the protests are happening.

“It’s not something that just happened because of one African American man who was killed by the police,” she said. “This is systemic now. It’s not something that just happened overnight.”

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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A press release from the Sioux Falls Police Department did not specify whether the individual killed was a suspect, officer or bystander.