Wausau protest over George Floyd's death draws hundreds calling for equality
In one of the largest organized protests in Wausau in recent memory, hundreds marched from the 400 Block through downtown Wausau to city hall on Saturday.
Organized by several local organizations including Men and Women for Change and People for the Power of Love, the march started at the 400 Block in Wausau before marching down Scott Street, across the bridge, and back through downtown to city hall. Multiple speakers addressed the crowd there, followed by 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence as people knelt or lay on the ground, remembering the length of time a Minneapolis police officer had kept his knee on George Floyd's neck before his death on May 25.
Official estimates are not yet available, but reporters and officials on the scene estimate more than one thousand turned out to honor George Floyd and in support of the Black Lives Matter movements calling for justice and change. Their main message was that racism won't be tolerated in Wausau.
Milton Esco of Wausau says he's been fighting for racial equality his whole life.
"I've seen a time when you couldn't be in the library or bus, they'd let you get on the back. I was there for that," said Esco.
Over his 72 years, Esco says he's witnessed good changes, but there's still work to be done.
"It seems like black people are the ones being stomped on the most," he said.
The next generation of kids are now joining the fight. Alyiah Medina is 13 years old. Her mom helped organize the march, and Medina spoke to the crowd, saying black kids fear they won’t be able to grow up.
"I want more implicit bias training going on for so many different people," she said.
Medina says she's experienced racism in central Wisconsin.
"I want people to be more comfortable with people of different races and ethnicities, and most of all, I just want people to feel safe and comfortable in their own homes," she said.
“What other kind of changes? Conversations with strangers, regardless what race you are,” said Esco.
Wausau's Mayor Katie Rosenberg is promising to look at policies that better unite people and police.
"We've been talking about, what are the policy initiatives we need to undertake in order to ensure that diversity, inclusion, belonging is part of the fabric of Wausau and our governing systems," Rosenberg said. “We’ve seen a lot of folks questioning tactics that police use, or law enforcement, so we’re re-looking at that.”
She says the police already don’t use the “8 can’t wait” tactics that people have been calling to end this week.
“I feel good about the direction we’re going,” she said.
Some say the fight for equality will someday be up to the kids in the crowd. Ben Lee of Wausau brought his kids to march.
"I feel like they're going to have to do this same thing, when they're young adults, and I hope that we're able to give them a path to that, and make sure that they know how to stand up for people's rights, and that there's nothing wrong with advocating for people in the community," Lee said. “It’s okay to recognize your privilege as a white person. As long as you can turn around and you can use that privilege to stand up for the more oppressed in our community,” he said.
Wausau law enforcement were on scene, including four police chaplains. Wausau police chief Ben Bliven told NewsChannel 7 that law enforcement experienced no issues at the event; officers were seen handing out water during the event. Streets downtown were closed from roughly 9:30 am to 1:00 pm to accommodate the protest, and have since been reopened. The march comes as protests continue around the country in the wake of Floyd's death.