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Large turnout for downtown Black Lives Matter march

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Demonstrators from a variety of faiths and denominations filled Park Street north of University Avenue Sunday evening. From there, the throng of protesters marched down State Street to the state Capitol where they held a Black Lives Matter rally.

Along the march, the demonstrators stopped every eight minutes and 46 seconds, a reminder of the amount of time ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd. The incident has sparked protests across Wisconsin and around the world.

"When Tony Robinson was killed, we did a lot of work," said pastor and Dane County Circuit Court Judge Everett Mitchell. "We worked very hard but we didn't finish and now is a time where we're gonna rally our community together and finish this work to ensure we accomplish those things, that we keep our children safe, our community safe, and give a different vision of what it means to be police in a community."

Protesters said they're heartened by the spread and scale of the now-international protests. They also cautioned they believe there's a lot more to do in order for black Americans to have equal opportunity and treatment under the law.

"Justice is not a noun; justice is a process and we're in the verb business right now of ensuring we get the justice we need," Mitchell said.

While they noted the road ahead, Qiana Holmes, who's a mother of two boys, said she's encouraged by changes that have happened so far following a little more than a week of nationwide protests.

"I'm seeing so- I'm not gonna say a lot of change really quickly, but seeing Confederate statues being taken down, seeing the streets of Washington, D.C. leading up to the Capitol be painted and the street name be changed to Black Lives Matter," Holmes said. "That really does matter."

The protesters called for a number of reforms, including a shift of local funding away from police departments and toward education, housing and mental health initiatives, particularly those with African-American leaders.

"Criminal justice reform is something that is dear to a lot of peoples' hearts," Mitchell said. "I think figuring out ways to ensure we're not sending people down a pipeline toward prison, investing in education resources and housing, resources in mental health, addressing the underlying trauma many people are facing will give us the ability to start this process again."

YWCA Madison CEO Vanessa McDowell spoke about ongoing inequities in home ownership, which she said has been a major factor in keeping black families from generating generational wealth. As 27 News reported in February, Wisconsin has one of the nation's worst black home ownership rates, while Dane County has one of the worst rates in Wisconsin.

Holmes said she hoped the diverse nature of the march would help sustain this particular push for racial justice. Speaking about the rioting and looting that followed peaceful protests last Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, she said those actions were "not effective" but added she cannot tell anyone else how to express their pain.

"We're not looking for a fight, we're looking for justice," Holmes said. "We're seeking, we're demanding justice and not to be judged by our skin color. That's one of the harshest things -- to be policed on the color of your skin."

A. J. Bayatpour

Reporter, WKOW 27

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