Protesters on June 12, 2020 in Banks. Photo: Chas Hundley

BANKS - As the rain fell on Greenville Park on the late afternoon of Friday, June 12, close to 300 people gathered to hear a handful of speakers, remember the life of a Black man killed by police, and to protest the culture and policies that led to his death, and others, in police forces across the nation. 

It was one of more than two dozen protests held in cities and communities across Washington County, and followed thousands of protests across the country and world decrying police violence and racial inequity in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police.

In a widely-shared video, police officer Derek Chauvin is shown pinning George Floyd, a black 46-year-old Minneapolis man to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd repeatedly gasped “I can’t breathe” before falling unconscious. Officers had been responding to a report that Floyd had allegedly attempted to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.

Floyd died shortly after falling unconscious, and four police officers are now being charged in his death.

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Local Banks residents and community leaders filled the crowd, from Reverend Margot Thompson of Banks Community United Methodist Church, to Banks High School head football coach Cole Linehan, as reported by the Forest Grove News Times’ Wade Evanson. 

After an introduction by Alyssa Rogers, who, along with her sister Christina Barackman organized the protest, an invocation and some remarks were given by Thompson. 

Reverend Margot Thompson of Banks Community United Methodist Church on June 12, 2020. Photo: Chas Hundley

Following that, Banks resident Ron Hamilton spoke to the crowd, recounting his own experiences facing systemic racism and inequality as a Black person in Washington County, and in his work for Washington County in human resources. 

Hamilton focused on unity as the integral part of his message to the crowd, which included many Banks-area families with younger children.

At the county government, Hamilton developed a diversity program — called “Let’s Talk” — that has informed how he approaches the thorny issues of race and discrimination.

Hamilton places a high value on the shared experiences of different cultures, referring to the skin color of a person as the tip of the iceberg, and encouraged the gathered crowd to engage with people of other cultures.

“I challenge you to go underneath and see what’s underneath the iceberg,” he said. 

Ron Hamilton speaks at the Black Lives Matter protest in Banks on June 12, 2020. Photo: Chas Hundley

The crowd marched from Greenville Park, thinning ever so slightly as a handful of families opted to skip the march portion of the protest, which streamed up the sidewalks of Trellis Way and veered on to Main Street, where about 275 protesters lined both sides of the sidewalk in the vicinity of the Banks High & Middle Schools and Sunset Park. 

Protesters walk up Trellis Way on June 12, 2020. Photo: Chas Hundley

Holding signs and chanting, the mostly masked protesters were greeted by honks, raised fists and in at least one case, a vehicle drove by with matching signs protesting racial inequality. 

Protesters line Main Street on June 12, 2020. Photo: Chas Hundley

“Lots of people paint it as a happy, small town where everybody has each others’ backs, but that is far from the truth,” said one protester, Kindel, who opted to give her first name only. “There’s a lot of cliques, there’s a lot of racism, and a lot that gets swept under the rug.”

“This is a better turnout than I expected, and it gives me some hope,” said Kindel, who said she graduated from Banks High School in 2015. 

Protesters line Main Street on June 12, 2020. Photo: Chas Hundley

Meanwhile, at Sunset Park, two officers with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office were on hand, as they have been at many Washington County protests in the last few weeks. 

Deputy Ryan Pope, the main deputy assigned to serve the city of Banks under a contract between the city and the sheriff’s office, said he was pleased with the way the protest was going. 

There had been some concern of armed counter protesters in the days leading up to the protest, but according to Dep. Pope, he was able to make contact with some individuals who had created what he described as “antagonistic” posts, but after a discussion, Dep. Pope said it appeared they were merely venting themselves and expressing another view. 

He noted that all protests in the county had been peaceful to date, and that the protest organizers had been in touch with the sheriff’s office. 

As for the protest, Pope noted that his agency supported their right to gather.

“The sheriff’s office, we 100% support their First Amendment right, as well as all our Bill of Rights that we have in this country. We’re happy to have them out here and do it.”

Alyssa Rogers leads a chant in Banks on June 12, 2020. Photo: Chas Hundley