By Josh Margolis
HAVRE, Mont. (NMB) – Around 75 people gathered in Havre on Sunday evening to peacefully protest in honor of George Floyd, a Minnesota man whose death in police custody has sparked nationwide demonstrations.
The demonstrators marched about a mile through town, first to the Havre Police Department where they knelt for eight minutes in memory of Floyd, then to the Town Square where community members gave speeches.
Melody Bernard, a Havre resident and enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, was one of the organizers of the event.
“I myself am Native American. I don’t look Native American. So I have that privilege of speaking out. Whereas if one of these individuals standing next to me that’s a little bit darker, they’re not going to have that opportunity. They just won’t. And I’ve seen it time and time again…I did not expect as many people that got up and spoke. One about her son being murdered and how tragic that was for her. as well as the young football player.”
That young football player is Montana State University-Northern student Dorian Miles, who said this event changed his perspective on Havre.
“And I was scared. Not because of any of you guys, but because of what I see every single day. Because I’m a 21 year-old black man with dreadlocks, with tattoos. I’m afraid. And you guys are helping me and I want to say thank you.”
Miles told New Media Broadcasters following the event that he did not plan on attending the demonstration until he saw the protesters march in front of him.
“I had no clue about this event. I was driving around the city. Riding around with my coach and my teammate. We were going to Subway and I saw these wonderful, wonderful human beings. These lovely human beings walking up the street, protesting for the same thing that I cry myself to sleep at night over. Protesting for that. Holding up signs, wearing all black. And I forget where I’m at. Is this Havre, Montana? I’m like OK. I dropped everything. I told my coach to stop right here, pull over, I’ll see y’all later. I just jumped out of the car and came here. That was my favorite part. To see everyone walking the streets. It’s good to see people gathered right here, but to see people walk the streets, their own streets, to protest about what they feel is wrong and to know that they have the same mindset as me. That’s my favorite part.”
One local name that was mentioned in a speech was A.J. Longsoldier. Longsoldier was a 19-year-old Native American that was arrested in 2009 after his probation officer couldn’t contact him. Deputies transported Longsoldier to the hospital, but the hospital failed to diagnose his alcohol withdrawal symptoms. He returned to the detention center, but his condition worsened. Blaine County called the hospital, but a nurse advised there was nothing physically wrong with Longsoldier and he was not transported. His condition deteriorated and he died the next day after being transported Northern Montana Hospital.
Hill County was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Montana Supreme Court. Longsoldier’s estate settled with Northern Montana Hospital in 2011.
“In A.J.’s case, even when they announced his death. I remember reading, ‘well, he was a drunk. Well, he shouldn’t have had, why aren’t they blaming his parents, why aren’t they…’ It doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter was, he started drinking early at a young age,” Bernard said. Due to whatever happened to him, I’m sure he had his trauma. We’re not going to get to able to question him about that, because he’s dead. But it’s important for us to keep A.J.’s memory alive, because that could have been prevented. Yes, he was an alcoholic, yes he had his issues. But that is no reason to dismiss somebody’s calls for help. And the other inmates that stepped in screaming for guards to get him some help, bless their souls. I hope more people do that in the future.”
Although the Havre Police Department received an invitation, they declined to take part in the demonstration.
“Our leaders need to step up and need to start attending these functions and listening to the people,” Bernard said. “And our police officers that could not come here, even as a show of support to wave. To say hey community, Havre supports you, and we are going to protect you. It’s upsetting. It’s very upsetting, to say the least.”
Although Bernard says she has not seen the type of police brutality locally that has sparked these protests, she said she would like there to be better communication between law enforcement and the community, as well as community policing.