The Black Lives Matter Movement Continues in Florence after Local Protests
As waves of protest have taken place and continue to take place in the United States, from Milan to Naples and Sicily, Italy has taken its own steps to show solidarity with the “Black lives matter” (BLM) movement against deaths and injuries caused by unnecessary race-based violence by police.
The latest episode in the U.S. is the death of Rayshard Brooks, an African American, on June 12, and locals are contemplating future public action. Brooks was killed by a policeman, who was subsequently fired, in Atlanta, igniting violent protests. George Floyd died in Minneapolis on May 25 when a policeman used excessive force to hold him on the ground; the officer’s knee was placed against his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, choking him until he died. His death has sparked a movement of protests to defund police and create reform against racism. According to CNN, Floyd was buried on June 9 at the Houston Memorial Garden’s cemetery where 500 people were present to mourn his passing.
A week ago, two peaceful marches were held in Florence against racism and unnecessary violence in the United States and across the world, while future events are in the planning stage.
The local U.S. community was the force behind the gathering on June 6 outside the American Consulate in which thousands of participants protested for the social and economic equality of all people following George Floyd’s death. The following day, June 7, Italian students gathered at the Piazza Santissima Annunziata at 5 p.m. to show their unanimity against systemic racism. According to the Facebook event page, ANPI Florence, Arci Florence, Network of Middle Students Tuscany, Florence Union of Left University Students and the Network of Middle Students Florence organized the demonstration.
THE FIRST PROTEST
At the American Consulate, a wide range of Italians in addition to expatriates including blacks and other ethnic groups of different ages attended the protest according to John Gilbert, a professor at the University of Florence and member of the Indivisible TUScany and Women’s March Florence movements. Some of the speakers included Justin Randolph Thompson, who heads up Black History Month Florence, a retired schoolteacher, Nancy Bailey, and Florence’s black city council member, Antonella Bundu.
Powerful images (check out photo gallery using the link) of this event were captured by a freelance stylist and photography, Lara Nokodian. “There was a great feeling of unity, even though we were all strangers. Everyone felt the solidarity,” Nokodian said in an email. “It was touching to see the people of Florence come together and stand for such an important cause. Taking photographs in that moment transmitted love, hope, power and togetherness all at once. It was an honor for me capturing those moments.”
“Seeing that video of George Floyd made all of us cry,” Gilbert said. “It’s very sad to think that the United States has these terrible problems. Seeing the militarization of the police, the body armor, the tanks and the guns out in front of the Lincoln Memorial is not a pretty sight. And it’s not the message that the United States should be sending to the rest of the world.”
At one point during the protest, the attendants were asked to kneel for eight minutes and 46 seconds in honor of the minutes George Floyd was held down before his passing. Daniele Bini, an internship and student services coordinator for international students studying abroad, attended the event.
“The most beautiful and intense part was definitely when we kneeled in silence while remembering George Floyd’s excruciating final moments,” Bini said in an email. “I can’t imagine how long those minutes were for him, but I can tell how long they were for me. I changed and switched positions several times; thinking that he was harmless laying down there it breaks my heart. It’s time for a change!”
Said Anna Kaona Mambo Edmond, the mother of the boy pictured: “I hope George Floyd’s family, Adama Traoré’s family (Tracoré was a native of Mali who died from unnecessary race-based violence at the hands of Paris police in 2016) and all the people we don’t know the names,t hat has been coldly murdered, will see justice. And I hope the world could really see what we been living through entire decades and this violence against us will stop. I have a son and I want to leave this earth knowing that he can live peacefully.”
Depending on what happens in the U.S., Women’s March Florence is ready to organize more vigils, and to participate with other Italian human rights organizations and movements in the future according to Gilbert. “There’s a good chance that there could be another vigil in the next few days, or in the next few weeks,” he said.
THE SECOND PROTEST
The flash mob featured around 400 to 500 people who were mainly high school and university students. Social distance measurements were followed as protestors were asked to wear masks. An open mic was available for people to share their thoughts.
Lorenzo Dandani, a 21-year-old student at the University of Florence and a member of the Union of Left University Students attended the event in Piazza Santissima Annunziata. “I hope that this protest could be the start of a long process against the racism in this town, but especially in the world,” Dandani said in an email. “This protest symbolizes that Florence is with the BLM movement in America against the oppression that they are fighting.”
According to Dandani, rain began to pour down during the event. Some continued to protest under the arcades at the Piazza, while others embraced the weather. “A large part of the protestors went under the rain, and it wasn’t weak rain, but like a flood,” Dandani said. “We started singing songs and dancing while all wet. It’s a miracle that I didn’t get sick after that day!”
People in Italy and the United States have continued demonstrating this past week so that the issue will not fade until change is made.
“We’re hoping not to go back to normality, normality was the problem,” says Gilbert. “We want to try to use this crisis in health care, the environment, racial repression and structural problems to come out, and imagine a world that’s better.” (lauren polanski)