A protest in Rio Rancho sent a call for people to educate themselves about systematic oppression on the national and local levels, said organizer Sam Bjustrom.
Efrain Colindres and Bjustrom organized the protest at Rio Rancho City Hall on June 6.
Bjustrom said they are not part of an official Black Lives Matter organization. They are citizens calling for change and support the BLM movement.
“You can’t sit in the gray; this issue isn’t something you can say, ‘I don’t have an opinion,’ or that you don’t want to pick a side. Silence on this is siding with the systemic oppression,” Bjustrom said.
Colindres and Bjustrom said there were about 100 protesters at City Hall.
“This protest was put together by a bunch of friends who felt like they needed to do something. When you see something as horrific as what happened to George Floyd, and know that this has been happening for hundreds of years without repercussion and without sound reason, you can’t just sit back,” Bjustrom said.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, until Floyd had died. Chauvin faces charges of third-degree murder, second-degree murder and manslaughter.
The three other officers on the scene who did not intervene were fired and charged with aiding and abetting murder.
Bjustrom said the message at the protest was unity, education and perseverance.
“Only as a collective can we cause change. We need to have the facts so when challenged we will be able to reply calm and collected. We can’t stop and wait till the next man is killed to start again,” he said.
At a local level, Bjustrom would like to see less of the city’s budget dedicated to Rio Rancho Police Department.
“My message to the policymakers is, look what’s happening around the country, listen to the people that are affected and do what’s right; don’t be ignorant to the truth because it is easier,” he said.
There should be more extensive background checks and training implemented onto the police force, Bjustrom said.
He would like to work with local leaders to help enact change, he said.
“I have lived in Rio Rancho same as (Bjustrom), and we have seen a lot of racial injustices and a lot, a lot, a lot, of systematic oppression, whether it be in the school system, if it is with police, so we just really wanted to get our voices out there,” Colindres said.
At the protest, people were able to share a message and make their voices heard, he said.
“We had an open mic, and a lot of people of different races from different backgrounds talked about the systematic oppression in Rio Rancho specifically,” he said.
Colindres said the main takeaway from the protest was to unite and educate Rio Rancho.
“It is going to take a lot of work from the city and the residents to really progress and educate themselves and others on how we can do better as a community,” he said.
Colindres said the protest was the first step to more education in Rio Rancho in hopes of expanding opportunities for minorities.
Even though Rio Rancho is a spread-out place, police brutality and racial injustice still happen, he said.
“In the school systems — I went to Cleveland for a while and you can see how some of the teachers and some of the staff and some of the students have some type of prejudice towards kids of color,” Colindres said.
He is 22 years old and was a part of the Black Student Union in high school.
“Some of the other groups had way better classrooms and opportunities; for us, we struggled in getting support from the school system and the school in general,” he said.
Colindres has seen videos on Facebook of students at Rio Rancho and Cleveland high schools saying racial slurs.
“It is out there, and you just have to open your eyes and be willing to see it,” he said.
Colindres said he would like to see local leaders be more hands-on with minorities, especially those in the black community. He added that no one is born a racist —racism is taught — and with education he hopes to see more people of color step into positions of authority.
The organizers started a GoFundMe to raise money for BLM organizations and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The page is https://gf.me/u/x7tz5x.