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Black Lives Matter movement support in Cape

By Staff | Jun 10, 2020

As protests continue to take place around the country, calling for the end of social injustice and police brutality, Southwest Florida residents have joined in that cry.

Peaceful protests have taken place in Fort Myers over the last two weekends, and now, Cape Coral residents will have an opportunity to make their voices heard.

A community organization called “Showing Up for Racial Justice SWFL” has created the “End White Silence Car Caravan” which will take place this Saturday beginning at 1 p.m. in Big John’s Plaza. The caravan of cars will then travel to the Cape Coral Police Department to present their message that “Black Lives Matter.”

SURJ is a national organization, with a local chapter represented in Southwest Florida for nearly five years.

“As a response to all of the protests that are going on across the country and in Fort Myers, we decided it was a good idea to have something visible here in Cape Coral, too,” said SURJ SWFL organizer Rachel Bass.

Bass said the cause of this organization and social distance-promoting caravan protest is “to send a message that Southwest Florida is in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. There’s a lot of us down here that feel very strongly about it. We wanted to get out and be seen, and give people a way to participate in something that’s not a street protest.”

While many protests have drawn questions about the potential impact of these gatherings when it comes to COVID-19, Bass said the caravan is a way for all members of the family to get involved, old and young, while keeping that distance recommended by health officials.

The Cape Coral Police Department is in support of all peaceful demonstrations.

“The CCPD supports all citizens’ right to free speech and peaceful assembly, and we agree and stand with anyone who is appalled by the criminal actions taken by a former officer in Minneapolis,” said CCPD public affairs officer Cpl. Phillip Mullen.

SURJ, while a multi-racial organization, focuses its efforts on the white community when it comes to the education of racial injustice.

“SURJ is a national network of groups and individuals working to undermine white supremacy and work towards racial justice,” Bass said. “Through community organization, mobilizing and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability.”

Bass said they work with the white community because they believe that’s where a majority of racism stems from.

SURJ SWFL works with local organizations that are led by people of color as well, such as the NAACP of Lee and Collier County.

Bass said she and her organization are encouraged by the progress made both nationally and locally here in Southwest Florida.

“I think the culture is shifting here,” she said. “This event has kind of hit people in a different way. People who had otherwise just been sitting on the sideline have all of a sudden been moved into action.

“(The) perception that this is ‘Trump County’ — I think that some of that is legitimate, and also I think that there’s just a lot of people who are silent who don’t feel that way, who want to live in a more just and kinder world. Those are the people we are trying to reach. I really believe there are more people that align with our values then there are that align with hate and intolerance and bigotry.”

Bass believes that white community needs to be involved when it comes to speaking out about racial injustice in the United States.

“White people need to be involved,” she said. “We need to start sending a message. Our black friends, neighbors, family members, carry the enormous burden of racial disharmony every day, every time they step outside, and there’s enough of us that we need to start pulling our own weight. It’s not just about not being part of the problem, but also stepping up and showing our support so that it’s not just weighing on people who are trying to survive it.”

Bass said their membership has “quadrupled or more” in the last few weeks.

Part of their caravan protest on Saturday will include calling for the defunding of the police department.

“The local police departments are taking up huge percentages of city and county budgets,” Bass said. “We still lack things such as homeless shelters and drug treatment facilities, acceptable mental health care. We still have kids going hungry in this area. We have an over-reliance on the police.”

An example Bass gave was to have an unarmed trained professional respond to a mental health crisis other than the police.

“We want to reimagine things that will keep our community safer,” she said. “We want to start to withdraw (funding for police) and fund other organizations to keep the community safe.”

When asked how she would feel about defunding a police department that has made Cape Coral one of the safest cities in Florida, Bass begged the question, “Safer for who?” and said keeping crime rates down does not always require a heavy police presence.

To get involved with SURJ SWFL, visit their Facebook page or email surjswfl@surjswfl.com. Big John Plaza is at 1215 Cape Coral Parkway.

Friday protest at Reflections Park

Members of the community will come together for a peaceful protest at Reflections Park at 5 p.m. in Cape Coral in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

This protest was not organized by any specific organization, but stemmed from a call to the public on social media.

Cape Coral resident Kim Benson on Twitter began a movement for a protest in Cape Coral, sharing her views that some residents of the city are what she called, “racist.”

“I am the organizer, but this is not my event; this is for the black community and for a great cause to not only raise awareness, but to create change in this problematic system. For justice,” Benson said.

Benson said she was saddened to see there had not been a protest in Cape Coral yet, so she took the initiative to spread the word on social media to anyone in the community who would be willing to peacefully protest as well.

“I’m doing this because I want justice for the lives that were taken,” she said. “For men and women of color who are victims of police brutality, racism and dealing with a completely unfair system.”

Benson said the group also will be peacefully protesting around the police department, which is across the street from the park.

Reflections Park is at 815 Nicholas Parkway, near City Hall.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj